‘Pre-embryos’ revisited: a historical sociology of translational biology 

Year of award: 2017


  • Marieke Bigg

    University of Cambridge

Project summary

This project will revisit the debates on human fertilisation and embryology that took place after the release of the Warnock report in 1984 and ended with the enactment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990. I will ask how developmental biologist Dame Anne McLaren used the scientific concept of the ‘pre-embryo’ as a rhetorical device in debates to make the case for the continuation of research. Dame Anne’s role as the only research scientist on the Warnock Committee, but also in public debate and in the scientific community, offers insight into the translational dimensions of human embryo research.

My research will explore the legacy of the term ‘pre-embryo’ by asking practising developmental biologists conducting research that needs an extended limit on in vitro research on human embryos, to reflect on the term and suggest which lessons about biological translation can be taken from the debates in the 1980s, and assess the usefulness of new scientific terms and concepts when engaging lay audiences in scientific debates.