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Pioneering former LMB scientist and Trinity College lecturer Dr Andrew McLachlan dies at 87

Tributes have been paid to eminent Cambridge scientist Dr Andrew McLachlan following his death at the age of 87.

He was a former group leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge and a member of the Trinity College community for more than half a century.

Dr Andrew McLachlan in 2014. Picture: MRC LMB
Dr Andrew McLachlan in 2014. Picture: MRC LMB

In his early years, he was taught by his mother before attending Pilgrim’s School in Winchester aged nine. In 1948 he won a scholarship to Winchester College and then a scholarship to study maths and physics at Trinity College.

After his undergraduate study, Dr McLachlan obtained a studentship in 1956 to work with Prof Chris Longuet-Higgins on magnetic resonance and in 1958 was awarded a Trinity fellowship for theoretical chemistry. He spent two years in the United States on a Commonwealth fund fellowship and on his return in 1961 was appointed Trinity College lecturer in physics.

Dr McLachlan was a member of the LMB from 1967 to 2006 and pioneered methods for analysing and interpreting the sequences and structures of DNA and proteins. He collaborated with biochemists Michael Gribskov and David Eisenberg in 1987 to introduce the method of ‘profile comparison’ (a means to detect similar or repeated protein sequences).

Dr Andrew McLachlan in 1967. Picture: MRC LMB
Dr Andrew McLachlan in 1967. Picture: MRC LMB

Alan Weeds, a former LMB group leader, recalled: “Although Andrew was not a conventional group leader who had a team working with him, his strength was in his many successful collaborations in the lab and elsewhere and the invaluable assistance he gave to many LMB scientists.”

Elected to the Royal Society in 1989, Dr McLachlan’s research focussed on studying chemical processes from the point of view of physics and understanding the interactions between the systems inside our cells.

Trinity fellow Keith Moffatt, emeritus professor of mathematical physics, recalls meeting Andrew McLachlan for the first time, in 1959: “I was in my first year of research, and was privileged to be invited for sherry in Andrew’s rooms in Great Court.

“He was keen to get to know research students across all disciplines in the college, and was a generous and entertaining host.

Dr Andrew McLachlan in 1987. Picture: MRC LMB
Dr Andrew McLachlan in 1987. Picture: MRC LMB

“At this party, he let slip that he was getting married in London the following Saturday and invited me to the celebration. I gladly accepted, and enjoyed this memorable wedding. Jenny and Andrew were our friends ever since, and were for a while in the 1970s our close neighbours in Barton Road, where our children were growing up in parallel. Andrew bore the loss of Jenny in 2018 with great fortitude, and faced with equal courage the more recent death of his third son, Alexander.”

Prof Boyd Hilton, a Trinity fellow in history, remembers Andrew McLachlan’s plain speaking, describing him as “a very kind and well-meaning man, obviously, and a brilliant scientist who crossed the borders between chemistry, physics, and molecular biology”.

He added: “He sometimes offended those who did not know about his good heart because he spoke rather dogmatically and was inclined to stick to his guns in an argument until - as not infrequently happened - he acknowledged an opposing point and gracefully yielded ground.”

Prof Moffatt added: “Andrew has been a lively colleague in Trinity for well over half a century, keenly opinionated, and always eager to share his views on controversial matters. Trinity will surely miss his somewhat startling, but always thought-provoking, intelligence at our high table and at college meetings in the Combination Room.”

Dr McLachlan died on July 7.

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