Manton, Irene 1904 - 1988


After studying at Cambridge, Irene was awarded an endowment of £150 to further her studies. She chose to work in the laboratory of Professor Otto Rosenberg in Stockholm. During her time there she undertook a cytological survey of chromosome numbers in one family of flowering plants, the Cruciferae. This work eventually led to her thesis for a PhD on the chromosomes of 250 species of crucifiers.

During her viva the external examiner questioned one of her results as to the number of chromosomes contained in the roots of watercress. As a result of this questioning she undertook further research on the watercress in order to arrive at the answer, during the course of which she discovered a new species of watercress which was added to the British Flora. The first time a new species had been discovered from looking at its chromosomes.

Irene joined the staff of the Botany Department of Manchester University as an Assistant lecturer in 1929. It was only a small department where she carried on her research into ferns and chromosomes. In 1946 she moved to Leeds University were she held the Chair of Botany, unlike Manchester which had an established research department, Leeds was very much under equipped. It did not have a proper departmental building or the facilities to propagate botanical specimens Irene was interested in. She remained at Leeds for the rest of her academic career to eventually become Professor Emeritus in 1969.

During her career many honours were bestowed upon her in 1969 she shared the Linnean Medal with Ethelwynn Trewavas and she was the first female President of the Society serving in that office between 1973 and 1976. She became a Fellow of the Royal society in 1961 for her work on ultramicroscopic structure of plants and their evolution.