Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker

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Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker.

Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker (6 November 1901 – 1957) was a British phycologist, born in Leigh, Lancashire, particularly known for her basic research on the edible seaweed Porphyra laciniata (nori), which led to a breakthrough for commercial growing.

Kathleen Drew-Baker studied the life cycle of the red alga Porphyra umbilicalis and found out that the microscopic Conchocelis — hitherto thought of as an independent alga — was the diploid stage of the organism of which Porphyra is the macroscopic, haploid stage.[1] Her investigations were soon repeated by the Japanese phycologist Sokichi Segawa, who in turn provided knowledge to revolutionize Japanese nori culture, which before had suffered from unpredictable harvests. Already by 1953, Fusao Ota and other Japanese marine biologists had developed artificial seeding techniques, building on her work. This in turn increased production and led to a boost in Japanese seaweed industry.

Kathleen Drew-Baker is still today revered in Japan, and called the Mother of the Sea.[2] Her work is celebrated each year on April 14. A monument to her was erected in 1963 at the Sumiyoshi shrine in Uto, Kumamoto, Japan.

Kathleen Drew-Baker won a county scholarship to study Botany at Manchester University, graduating in 1922 with first class honours. She spent most of her academic life at the cryptogamic botany department of the University of Manchester, serving as a Lecturer in Botany and Researcher from 1922 to 1957. From 1925 she spent two years working at Berkeley College, University of California after winning a Commonwealth Fellowship. Kathleen married Henry Wright-Baker in 1928, which resulted in her dismissal by the university which had a policy of not employing married women. She got around this rule by obtaining an Ashburne Hall residents Fellowship, which allowed her to become an honorary research fellow.

She was a co-founder of the British Phycological Society and its first President.


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