Noreen Murray

Molecular geneticist who helped develop a vaccine against hepatitis B.

Lady Noreen Elizabeth Murray (née Parker) CBE, FRS, FRSE,  was a molecular geneticist who helped develop a vaccine against Hepatitis B, the first genetically-engineered vaccine approved for human use.  Noreen was born on 26 February 1935 . 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.

Noreen Murray
Noreen Murray

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.

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. Since the death of Noreen and latterly her husband Kenneth, the University of Edinburgh has built a Library at its King's Buildings campus named the Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library, in their memory.


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