Liane B. Russell, 1993


For her outstanding contributions to genetics and radiation biology including her discovery of the chromosomal basis for sex determination in mammals and her contributions to our knowledge of the effects of radiation on the developing embryo and fetus. Her findings, and their implications for humans, have been the benchmark for the study of mutations in mammals and for genetic risk assessment worldwide.


Liane B. Russell has made fundamental scientific contributions to basic genetics, teratogenesis, and mutagenesis. Some of the most renowned are her discovery of the chromosomal basis for sex-determination in mammals by establishing that the Y chromosome determines maleness in mammals, her demonstration that only one of two X chromosomes in a cell is active, and her discovery that mutations induced in reproductive cells at different stages differ qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Her findings, and their implications for humans, have been the benchmark for mammalian mutagenesis and for genetic risk assessment worldwide.

At a time when only scattered reports were available about the effects of radiation on embryos and fetuses, Dr. Russell undertook an extensive, systematic study in mice on the relationship between prenatal irradiation and the occurrence of developmental anomalies and birth defects. She was the first to identify periods during embryogeny that were critical for the normal development of various parts of the body. Her data helped convince doctors of the need for precautions against exposure of embryos to diagnostic irradiation, especially during very early stages when a pregnancy might still be unsuspected. Her specific recommendations for avoiding such exposures were accepted by the national and international medical community. Subsequent to her studies on developmental effects, Russell devoted her energies to studying the frequency and nature of mutations induced by radiations and chemicals in reproductive cells and transmitted to the next or future generations. She pioneered a number of mammalian mutagenesis tests that are in use worldwide.

Dr. Russell has been a leader in effecting the transition from classical genetics to molecular analysis. She had the foresight to preserve numerous mutants and subject them to in-depth genetic and functional analyses. Her group is now using this mutational resource as biological reagents for DNA-function/structure mapping and characterization of selected regions of the mouse genome and of corresponding portions of the human genome. The mouse provides an excellent model for exploring the in vivo functions of human genes and for studying the nature of genetic disorders because neither inducing mutations nor experimenting on development are feasible in humans. Recent examples of mutations being studied by Russell's group are some that cause congenital cleft palate, polycystic kidney disease, obesity/diabetes, and auto-immune disorder.

Over the past three decades, Russell has had a second career as a volunteer activist for the protection of wild and natural lands and rivers in Tennessee and the Nation. With the help of an organization she helped to found, her efforts have led, among other things, to the designation of the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Obed National Wild and Scenic River. Last year she received the prestigious Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Award of the National Parks and Conservation Association.

Liane Brauch Russell was born in 1923 in Vienna, Austria. She earned her A.B. from Hunter College in New York City in 1945 and she became a naturalized citizen in 1946. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Dr. Russell began her career as a research assistant at Jackson Memorial Laboratory and as a fellow at the University of Chicago. In 1947, she moved to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she is currently Senior Corporate Fellow and Section Head. Her many honors include the international Roentgen Medal (1973), Hunter College Hall of Fame (1979), and the Environmental Mutagen Society's EMS Award (1993). Dr. Russell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986.

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