September 21, 2010

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Audrey L. Muggleton-Harris, 78, former associate professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI who made notable contributions as a cell biologist and embryologist, died Sept. 2, 2010, in Yarmouth Port, Mass. She began her biology career in 1952 as a research assistant to James Danielli in the zoology department at Kings College in London. Danielli, who would later become the first head of WPI's Department of Life Sciences, was an internationally recognized cell biologist who developed an influential model of the cell membrane.

Muggleton-Harris worked with Danielli on pioneering work on nuclear transfer that he had begun in the late 1940s. Using amoebae, he became one of the first researchers to demonstrate that a nucleus, which contains an organism's generic blueprint, can be taken from one living cell and implanted in another—a vital step toward cloning. She worked with Danielli to clone amoebae, and later cloned frogs before joining the WPI faculty in 1976 as an Alton Jones Research Fellow in the Department of Life Sciences (she later became an associate professor of biology and biotechnology).

At WPI, she headed what was thought to be one of just six labs around the world attempting to be the first to clone a mouse. When the feat was finally achieved by others, she hailed the development. "It will speed up my work tremendously," she told WPI's Newsbriefs. In 1982, Muggleton-Harris became only the second faculty member and the first woman to win WPI's Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Creative Scholarship and Research.

After she left WPI in 1983, Muggleton-Harris made many seminal contributions to cell biology and embryology as a research scientist for the Medical Research Council in London before she retired to Cape Cod in 1997. Her later research centered on diagnosing defects in embryos before in vitro fertilization implantation. Her obituary notes that her work "frequently involved the micro-manipulation of cells and embryos, for which she had an amazing touch."

"Audrey Muggleton-Harris was a leading embryologist who worked with a number of the preeminent developmental biologists of the time, both in the U.K. and the United States," notes Eric Overström, WPI's provost ad interim, who has also made pioneering contributions to the fields of developmental biology and cloning. "It was quite a coup to have her at WPI."

Muggleton-Harris had trained to be a grade school teacher before she read about Danielli's research in the newspaper and decided to change careers. She studied zoology and cell biology in the evenings while working for Danielli, then followed him to the United States, working as a research associate at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Institute for Cancer in Philadelphia, before becoming research director of the cell biology program at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.

She returned to England in 1972 to do research at the Marshal Mammalian Embryology Department at Cambridge University, then spent two months at Stanford University working for Leonard Hayflick, a gerontologist who discovered that human cells in culture can divide only about 50 times (known as the Hayflick limit).

Born in London, Muggleton-Harris earned a BS at Sussex and an MS at Cith and Guilds. A competitive rower, she competed for the St. Georges Ladies Rowing Club in England and made the All England squad in 1960. She rowed at the Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club and was captain of the club during the 1970s, competing in many events, including the 1971 nationals.

After retirement, she was active at the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, where she was in charge of acquisitions and led tours of the Bangs Hallet House, and volunteered as a docent at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. She leaves a daughter and two grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to the Cape Cod Museum of Art, P.O. Box 2034, Dennis, MA 02638.