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Murray, Noreen Elizabeth, Lady, 1935-2011 (professor of molecular genetics, University of Edinburgh)



Noreen Murray (nee Parker) was born on 26 February 1935 near Burnley, Lancashire, and attended Lancaster Girls' Grammar School. She won a scholarship to study botany as an undergraduate at King's College, London, where she developed an interest in microbial genetics. This led her on to study for a PhD at the University of Birmingham under the supervision of David Catcheside, Head of the new Department of Microbiology. At Birmingham Noreen investigated recombination in Neurospora crassa.

After gaining her doctorate in 1959, Noreen spent the years 1960-1964 at Stanford University with her husband Kenneth, as a Research Associate in D.D. Perkins' laboratory. After returning to the UK, Noreen gained a position at the Botany School in Cambridge, before moving with Kenneth to the University of Edinburgh in 1968 to join the MRC Molecular Genetics Unit, located in the UK's first department of molecular biology. The work of Noreen and her colleagues in the Unit was at the forefront of the recombinant DNA revolution. When the MRC Unit closed down in 1974, Noreen became a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer then Reader within the Department. She took two years out of the University in 1980 to take up a position as Group Leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. In 2001, the year she formally retired, she was given a Personal Chair in Molecular Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, and was made Professor Emeritus a year later. She continued to research and work long after her retirement.

Noreen Murray's most notable contributions came from fundamental studies of restriction enzymes and the development of cloning vectors based on the bacteriophage lambda, along with their use in facilitating studies on gene expression. Upon joining Edinburgh, Noreen switched her research focus from Neurospora to the bacteriophage lambda and its host Escherichia coli, to allow for the biochemical study of recombination. Working with restriction enzymes, Noreen realised that introducing foreign genes into E. coli might provide a relatively simple way of obtaining large amounts of the corresponding proteins for experimental and therapeutic purposes. Over the next 10 years she developed a series of increasingly sophisticated lambda vectors, in Edinburgh and at Heidelberg. These are still widely used in laboratories around the world today.

Noreen's scientific contributions were recognised with many honours, including election to the Royal Societies of Edinburgh and London, and the European Molecular Biology Organisation, honorary degrees from the Universities of Birmingham, Umist, Warwick, Lancaster, Sheffield and Edinburgh, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a CBE for services to science. She was Vice-President of the Royal Society of London, President of the Genetical Society of Great Britain, a member of the Council of BBSRC, and a Trustee of the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh that she and Ken established to support research in the natural sciences.

Noreen died in Edinburgh on 12 May 2011.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Departmental Grant Applications, 1975-1978

Identifier: EUA IN1/ACU/M1/5/7

File relating to the conferring of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on Kenneth and Noreen Murray by the University of Birmingham, 1994-1995

Identifier: Coll-1527/1/14
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Comprises chiefly certificates and medals awarded to Kenneth Murray over the course of his career (including his knighthood) as well as accompanying items such as videos and photographs from award ceremonies.

Dates: 1994-1995

File relating to the Special Minute of Senatus Academicus relating to Noreen Murray, 2001

Identifier: Coll-1527/5/15
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Comprises material relating to Kenneth Murray's work at the University of Edinburgh, from his appointment to the Department of Molecular Biology. Material includes staff and student files, faculty, departmental and committee papers, press cuttings and material relating to University events.

Dates: 2001

Papers of Lady Noreen Murray

Identifier: Coll-1528
Content Description This archive comprises the personal and working papers of Noreen Murray, including: awards and honours; biographical materials such as photographs and family documents; material relating to Noreen's education and early career, including school certificates; personal and professional correspondence; papers relating to Noreen's work at the University of Edinburgh, including departmental papers, teaching materials and staff and student files; notes and data relating to research; notes and...
Dates: 1913-2015

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Collection 1
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Molecular Genetics 1
Research 1