Mendel Medal 2018 – Professor Mary-Claire King

The Genetics Society is delighted to announce that Prof. Mary-Claire King, of the University of Washington, has accepted to receive the 2018 Mendel Medal. Mary-Claire has made major contributions across an amazing breadth of genetics and genomics. During her PhD (1976) with Allan Wilson, she was the first to show the high level of conservation between human and  chimpanzee genomes. In the face of much scepticism at the time that genes could contribute to common disease, in 1990 she was the first to show that there was a gene (later identified as Brca1) that predisposed for early onset human breast and ovarian cancer, and this discovery revolutionised human genetics. 

Moreover, Mary-Claire has shown how genetics can be used for the greater human good. She first applied her genetics skills to human rights work in 1984, when she  began working with the ‘Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo’ in Argentina to identify missing persons, ultimately identifying 59 children, born to political dissents in prison and who were then “disappeared” by the Argentine military dictatorship.  These children were illegally “adopted” by military families and Mary-Claire’s work helped to return them to their biological families. 

Mary-Claire King has since worked with numerous human rights organizations, such as Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International, to identify missing people in countries including Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Rwanda, the Balkans (Croatia and Serbia), and the Philippines. King’s lab has also provided DNA identification for the U.S. Army, the United Nations, and the U.N.’s war crimes tribunals.