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Embryo culture pioneer Denis New dies, aged 80

10 January 2010

By Heidi Colleran

Appeared in BioNews 540

Distinguished embryologist Denis New, who developed seminal techniques for embryo culture, has died at the age of 80, reports The Guardian newspaper.

New was born in Eltham, south-east London. A lifelong lover of biology, he studied zoology as an undergraduate at St John's College, Oxford, during which time he published his first scientific paper in 1953; a study of the larval stages of the nematode, Rhabditis pellio. New went on to complete his PhD at University College London (UCL) in the 1950s under Michael Abercrombie, marrying fellow UCL biologist, June Wright. Both took up research posts in Jamaica, at the University of the West Indies and, on their return to the UK, New joined the Strangeways research laboratory in Cambridge in 1961, and later the university's physiology laboratory, where he remained until his retirement in 1996.

New set out what was to become the preeminent guide to embryo culture for a generation of developmental biologists, in a 1955 paper published in the Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology. His innovation was to use the vitelline membrane of chick eggs (the coating of the yolk) to grow embryos, in contrast to previous work that had focused on using clots of plasma. He later focused on ways to culture mammalian embryos, and in addition to the membrane approach he had pioneered for chicks, New developed techniques for growing rodent embryos in small rotating bottles; these allowed the researcher to observe the normal development of the embryo, and assess the impact of potential teratogens (substances causing abnormal cell development, which may lead to defects in the fetus). He succeeded in growing rat and mouse embryos to beyond the halfway stage of gestation, through periods of substantial growth and elaboration, without a placenta. The significance of this work is highlighted by the fact that scientists have yet to discover how to engineer a placenta. New's work has been widely published, including a textbook on embryo culture in 1966, and a now classic paper on whole-embryo culture in the journal Biological Review in 1978.

He is survived by his wife June and their daughters, Helen and Laura.

Denis Alan Trevor New, embryologist, born 13 April 1929; died 21 November 2009

Guardian | 06 January 2010


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