Auerbach | Charlotte | 1899-1994 | geneticist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Charlotte Auerbach was born into a learned artistic and scientific Jewish family. She went to school in Berlin and in 1919 she began her studies in biology, chemistry, physics and the philosophy of David Hume (1711-1776) at Berlin, Wurtzburg and Freiburg. Because of antisemitism the period between 1924-1933 was one of erratic employment as either a schoolteacher or researcher: she was dismissed or forced to leave many jobs. She fled Nazi Germany on the advice of her mother and arrived in England where a family friend introduced her to Professor Barger at Edinburgh University. Through Barger she met Professor Crew and, along with a number of other refugees of totalitarianism, she joined the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh as a Ph.D student. According to Auerbach Crew ran the department as his private club with social gatherings in the evenings and at weekends. From 1938, the reknowned Russian geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller (1890-1967) joined the Institute - this according to Lotte changed her whole life as he introduced her to mutagenics. She first came to notice as a scientist in 1941-1942 when with AJ Clark and JM Robson she discovered that mustard gas, a highly toxic substance that had been used in trench warfare, caused genetic mutation in fruit flies (Drosophila). In so doing she founded the study of gene mutation by chemicals - mutagenisis was her personal contribution to science. Her approach was biological rather than chemical in that, while she acknowledged that mutation took place in the chemistry of the gene, she adhered to the idea that it was the biological interaction that gave the process its complexity. She used Drosophila, and later, microorganisms such as Neurospora and yeasts to test the mutagenic properties of other agents (mustard gas had proved too dangerous). From this she pursued four lines of enquiry: the patterns of combinations called mosaics (mutant and non-mutant cells), that increased mutation occurred in delayed or stored genes affected by a mutagen, 'replicating instabilities', i.e., that mosaics produced more mosaics in later generations, and that in 'specifity'- parts of the gene were affected differently by mutagenisis. Lotte was profoundly independent and as a scientist, and compassionate as a person: she supported CND, loathed racism, and adored children. In 1947 she published under the pseudonym, Charlotte Austen (a favourite author in her childhood) a popular book of fairy stories called Adventures with Rosalind.


Charlotte Auerbach was the grandchild of Leopold Auerbach (1828-1897), the neuro-anatomist and discoverer of Auerbach's plexus, and the daughter of the chemist, Friedrich Auerbach (1870-1925). Lotte's principal collaborators in research and publication were H Moser, AJ Clark, PT Shukla and JM Robson on mustard gas and other chemical mutagenic agents of Drosophila, FAE Crew on the mutagenesis of the mouse, and D Ramsay on Neurospora.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

91 published scientific works including:

Genetics in the Atomic Age, (1956)

Mutation, (1962)

The Science of Genetics, (1962)

Mutation Research: Problems, Results and Perspectives, (1976)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1935: Awarded Ph.D., University of Edinburgh

1947: Awarded D.Sc., University of Edinburgh

1949: Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh

1957: Elected Fellow, The Royal Society

1959-1969: Honorary Director of Unit of Mutagenesis Research, University of Edinburgh

1967: Appointed Personal Chair, University of Edinburgh

1969: Appointed Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh

1977: Awarded Darwin Medal, The Royal Society


List of sources for the biographical information:

Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society, ( London, The Royal Society, 1995)