Michael Abercrombie

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Michael Abercrombie
Born (1912-08-14)14 August 1912
Dymock, Gloucestershire, UK
Died 28 May 1979(1979-05-28) (aged 66)
Little Shelford, Cambridge, UK
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Oxford
Spouse(s) Minnie Louie (Jane) Johnson
Scientific career
Fields developmental and cell biology
Institutions University of Cambridge, UK; University of Birmingham, UK; University College London, UK; University of Oxford, UK
Influences J. Z. Young; Honor B. Fell

Michael Abercrombie FRS[1] (14 August 1912 – 28 May 1979) was a British cell biologist and embryologist. He was one of four children of the poet Lascelles Abercrombie.

Early life[edit]

Michael was born at Ryton near Dymock in Gloucestershire on 14 August 1912 the third son of Lascelles Abercrombie, poet and critic, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Owen Gwatkin, a surgeon at Grange-over-Sands.[2] His uncle was the famed British town planner, Patrick Abercrombie.

Abercrombie went to school at Liverpool College and then Leeds Grammar School. In 1931 he entered Queen's College, University of Oxford, to study Zoology under Prof Gavin de Beer supported by a Hastings scholarship. He was awarded a first class B. Sc. degree in 1934.

Scientific career[edit]

He moved to the Strangeways Research Laboratory at the University of Cambridge to undertake doctoral research.[3] In 1938 was employed at University of Birmingham as a lecturer, while also holding a research fellowship at Queen's College, University of Oxford. At Birmingham he met another lecturer, Minnie Johnson, whom he married on 17 July 1939. He was classified as unfit for military service in the second world war and moved to University of Oxford to work on wound healing and nerve regeneration until 1943, then returned to Birmingham.

In 1947 he and his wife moved to the anatomy and zoology departments at University College London.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1958. He finally became director of the Strangeways Research Laboratory at Cambridge from 1970 until his death. Here Abercrombie studied cell population growth and behaviour.

He notably discovered that animal cells moving through tissue culture will halt when they come into contact with another cell of the same type, with the important exception of cancer cells. This discovery led to new interest and research into the dynamics and growth of cancer cells.

He died at home in Cambridge on 28 May 1979.


He married Minnie Louie Johnson in 1939. She was generally known as Jane Johnson. They had one son.


  • Dictionary of Biology (1950)

Abercrombie is also known for editing and co-founding the Penguin New Biology textbook. He was one of the founders and first editor (1953–62) of Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology (renamed Development in 1987).


  1. ^ Medawar, P. (1980). "Michael Abercrombie. 14 August 1912-28 May 1979". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 26: 1–15. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1980.0001.
  2. ^ Dictionary of National Biography 1971-1980
  3. ^ Bellairs, Ruth (2000). "Michael Abercrombie (1912-1979)". Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 23–28. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  4. ^ "Michael Abercrombie" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  • Bullock, Alan (1983). "Michael Abercrombie". In Woodings, R.B. 20th Century Culture: A Biographical Companion. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0-06-015248-2.

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