The MRC Harwell institute consists of the Mary Lyon Centre and the Mammalian Genetics Unit. It was founded in 1947 to carry out radiobiology research, and started focusing on genetics research in the 50’s.

The Mary Lyon Centre

The Mary Lyon Centre is a national facility for mouse functional genomics, providing world-class expertise and tools to generate mouse models of human disease for MRC Harwell and the wider research community.

First established in 2004, the centre has been named in recognition of the achievements of Mary Lyon, a researcher at MRC Harwell who first discovered the process of X-chromosome inactivation, also known as lyonisation.

In recognition of her work, Mary Lyon was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1984 received their Royal Medal, and has been awarded the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, the March of Dimes Prize and the Wolf Prize in Medicine. Her discovery has led to great advances in our understanding of X-linked inherited diseases such as haemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome and certain cancers.

The Mammalian Genetics Unit  

The Mammalian Genetics Unit is a major international research center at the forefront of studies in mouse genetics and functional genomics, investigating a wide variety of disease models and enhancing our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of disease.

The Mammalian Genetics Unit (MGU) was first established in 1995 as part of an expansion of the genetics division at MRC Harwell.

Research here is based around lifetime studies, from development to ageing. Using mouse models developed within the Mary Lyon Centre, the MGU conducts research into developmental disorders and age-related conditions such as diabetes, deafness and neurodegeneration. The findings from many of these research programmes are now moving towards the clinic. For example, genes first identified by researchers at the MGU now form part of the Genetics of Otitis Media Study, which seeks to identify genes responsible for the most common cause of hearing loss in children.

MRC Harwell is part of various large-scale projects to study mammalian functional genomics; how alterations to the genome affect the function of the gene and the overall phenotype. The MGU works closely with the Mary Lyon Centre to generate and study knockout mice for the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), which aims to discover the function of every gene in the genome by systematic phenotyping.

In the future, researchers at the MGU will continue to extend our knowledge of mouse functional genomics, as well as provide a platform on which future research and therapies can be built. Utilising the resources available to them at MRC Harwell, they will continue to make great advances in our understanding of the genetics underlying development and disease.   

Mouse News Letter

“To survey the history of the Mouse News Letter is to see the history of mouse genetics unfold.” So wrote Mary Lyon in 1997. Mouse News Letter (MNL) was launched in 1949 as an informal bulletin of mouse genetics information, sponsored by the Nomenclature Committee. In a pre-internet age MNL provided mouse genetic information to readers throughout the world.

MNL enabled mouse geneticists to report new mutants, results of mapping studies, research findings, holdings of mouse stocks. It published lists of known genes and the latest mouse map. On behalf of the Nomenclature Committee it printed mouse genetic nomenclature rules. The first issues were produced very simply on a duplicating machine and not all are easy to read. 

MNL ran for forty eight years, with Harwell geneticists as chief editors. It was published twice a year for over thirty years, eventually increasing to four times a year. It changed its name to Mouse Genome in 1990 and the final issue, Mouse Genome Volume 95 (4) was published in December 1997. MNL and Mouse Genome provide a fascinating history of mouse genetics during the second half of the 20th century.
Today MNL continues to exist as a company, Mouse News Letter Ltd, which seeks to promote Genetics and provides funds to enable younger scientists to attend conferences.

Download the full archives here:

Mouse News Letter Archive – April 1949 to November 1989

Mouse Genome Archive – February 1990 to December 1997

Lyon, MF. (1997). A Life Story of Mouse News Letter and Mouse Genome. Mouse Genome 95:818-820.