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The Papers of Mark Bretscher

Reference Code: GBR/0014/BRTS

Scope and Contents

The collection held by Churchill Archives contains the professional scientific papers of Mark Bretscher, starting from his early work on the genetic code and protein biosynthesis, then moving into his work on cell membranes and cell movement. Predominantly working papers with some correspondence and photographs.


  • Creation: 1936 - 2013

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holder and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Mark Bretscher was born in Cambridge, UK, on 8th January 1940; he is the son of the nuclear physicist Egon Bretscher. Educated at Abingdon School, Berkshire, he went on to study Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. Bretscher moved from the Chemistry department to Biology in 1961 where he started a PhD under Sydney Brenner initially in the Cavendish Laboratory and then at the new MRC laboratory of Molecular Biology. His worked focused on the use of synthetic polyribonucleotides to investigate the genetic code. After completing his PhD in 1964, Bretscher took up a year-long Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University, California with Dr. Paul Berg. Upon his return from Stanford in 1965, he continued with his work on protein biosynthesis as a Research Fellow at Gonville and Cauis College, Cambridge. In 1970, Bretscher began to feel that his work on protein biosynthesis was in an overcrowded research area, so instead switched to looking at cell membranes - a new area of study for the MRC Laboratory. From studies on human erythrocytes he was the first to show that the lipid bilayer structure for biological membranes was asymmetric, and was spanned by specific membrane proteins. From 1974-75 Bretscher took up a visiting Professorship at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Harvard University; here he taught a final year course on cell membranes. On returning to Cambridge, he began studies of how animal cells move. Bretscher was joint head of the Cell Biology Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge from 1986 -1995, sharing the post with Peter Lawrence and then Hugh Pelham. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1985. Since 2005 Bretscher has been an emeritus scientist at the Cell Biology Division, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge. In 2009, he discovered that amoebae and human neutrophils (white blood cells) can swim, which he describes as, "perhaps my most important contribution yet".


12 archive box(es)

Language of Materials



The collection was gifted to the Churchill Archives Centre in well-ordered files reflecting Bretscher's use of the material. This order has been retained.

Other Finding Aids

The catalogue includes the descriptions of the material prepared by Mark Bretscher himself. A copy of Bretscher's original list for files 1-39 can be found at BRTS 1. This catalogue also includes a separate note of Bretscher's personal comments and reflections on the material.

A copy of this catalogue is available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, the National Register of Archives, London and on the Janus website,

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were received from Mark Bretscher in 2012, with an additional accession of 3 correspondence files and slides in 2015.

Related Materials

Churchill Archives Centre also holds the papers of Mark Bretscher's father Egon Bretscher (BRER).


This description was prepared by Elizabeth Courtney at Churchill Archives Centre in August 2012, using information provided by Mark Bretscher, Who’s Who, Mark Bretscher’s Curriculum Vitae and from John Finch’s book ‘A Nobel Fellow on Every Floor’ (published 2008).


Bretscher, Mark, b 1940, biologist

2012-08-22 16:24:03+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087