M. Josephine Mackerras: Parasitologist

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. The day is all about raising the profile of women who have contributed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Therefore, I’m going to write about M. Josephine Mackerras, an Australian parasitologist. Her work on helminths of Australian mammals was one of the first papers on parasites that I read when I started my PhD research.

Mabel Josephine Mackerras (nee Bancroft), 1896 – 1971.

M. Josephine Mackerras (image via Sprent 1972)

Josephine Mackerras was born in Brisbane. Her grandfather wasThomas Bancroft, the first to find the microfilariae that would bear his name, Wuchereria bancrofti, the causative agent of filariasis. Josephine was educated at the University of Queensland (BSc Hons 1918), and University of Sydney (MB Hons 1924). She worked on understanding the transmission of malaria, and the effects of anti-malaria drugs during the second world war, when she was working as a member of the 2nd Australia Imperial Force. Following the war, she worked on several different projects, including understanding the life history of Angiostrongylus mackerrasae (then called A. cantonensis), a rat lungworm that causes eosinphilic meningitis in humans. She also published many papers on haematozoa and helminths of native animals.

Josephine was married to Ian Mackerras, an entomologist, and while they did much of their work separately, they did co-author some research papers together. I once heard a story that Josephine and Ian would go fishing, and take blood smears on slides from their catch for Josephine’s work on haematozoa. They’d fix, stain and examine the slides while the fish cooked for their dinner.

Josephine’s contribution to Australian entomology and parasitology was not unnoticed by her peers, as she was made a Fellow of the Australian Society for Parasitology in 1966, and was conferred an honorary doctorate by the University of Queensland in 1967. In all, she produced 86 publications, including a book chapter the year before her death.


Australian Dictionary of Biography (web), MJ Mackerras.

Sprent, JFA (1972) Obituary: MJ Mackerras. Int J Parasitol 2, 181-185.


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