Source: The Scientist | Nicoletta Lanese | July 29, 2019

Liane Russell studied mammalian genetics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for much of her long and productive career. (Credit: DOE, ORNL)

Liane Russell, whose work helped identify the deleterious effects of prenatal radiation exposure and the chromosomal basis of sex in mice, died July 20 at age 95.

Russell spent much of her career at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, having first joined the institution in 1947. There, she and her husband William Russell established the Mouse House, an extensive colony of mutant mice bred to model the effects of radiation exposure.

In 1950, Russell pieced together the connection between specific birth defects and radiation exposure during early development. The research continues to shape medical protocols around the use of X-rays and other diagnostic radiation during pregnancy.

While experimenting with mutated mice, Russell realized that some mutations, such as those affecting fur color, only appeared in females. Following this line of study led her to discover that the Y chromosome determines male biological sex in mice. Russell also went on to study chemically induced mutations and developed mouse models for human genetic disorders.

Born in Austria, Russell came to the United States after her family fled Nazi-occupied Vienna in the 1930s. She remembered flushing “incriminating books” down the toilet before fleeing first to Brussels, according to an obituary in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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