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Obituary: Dr Wesley Whitten

1 June 2010
Appeared in BioNews 560

Dr Wesley Whitten, whose pioneering work in the field of reproductive physiology, which made the study of pre-implantation embryos possible, passed away on 24 May 2010.

After graduating from a degree in veterinary science in 1939, Dr Whitten served four years as a captain in the Australian Army Veterinary Corps. He then went on to join Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, researching sheep reproduction.

In 1950 he became a faculty member of the Australian National University, where he remained for 11 years. During this period, Dr Whitten's research focused on delayed implantation of lactating mice. His research findings pioneered the study of mammalian pheromones and their olfactory receptors.

Two of Dr Whitten's discoveries have his name attributed to them, a tribute to the long-lasting importance of his work: Whitten's Medium allowed the culturing of mammalian eggs; a major methodological development in the study of oocyte maturation, fertilisation and embryo development. His discovery of the influence of sexual pheromones on murine reproduction is known as the Whitten Effect.

Dr Whitten's original work is still the basis of modern methodology in this field. Whitten's Medium remains the standard in all embryonic culture experiments, allowing studies of development that would otherwise have remained impossible.

In awarding Dr Whitten an honorary degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dr William Pryse-Phillips described his work as having 'benefited the world's divided populations by revealing the earliest processes of the ingenious machine of nature, allowing mankind a glimpse of divine control'.

The extent of Dr Whitten's achievements in the development of reproductive medicine is internationally recognised. In 1982 he was made a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and awarded the Pioneer Award of the International Society for Embryo Transfer in 1996. In 1993, he was awarded the prestigious Marshall Medal from the Society for the Study of Fertility for outstanding contributions to the study of fertility and reproduction.

Wesley Kingston Whitten
Memorial - Universtiy of Newfoundland |  25 May 2010
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