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100 Years of animal genetics and breeding

History of animal research in Edinburgh.

Photo of Crew
First chair of the Animal Breeding Research Department, Francis Albert Eley Crew. Credit: Royal Society Publishing.

The beginning of genetic teaching 

2019 marked the 100 year anniversary of animal breeding and genetics here in Edinburgh.

This was the anniversary of Francis Albert Eley Crew becoming the first chair of the Animal Breeding and Research Department at the University of Edinburgh in 1919. It was at this time that there were enough people to form a department around animal breeding and genetics, and they had a charismatic leader in Crew. 

While scientists Francis & Crick are often credited with discovering DNA in the 1950s, lectures in genetics began well before this.

The first genetics lecture taught in the UK was in Edinburgh in 1911, delivered by Arthur Darbishire. He was slated to become the first Director of the Animal Breeding and Research department, but unfortunately died before it came to fruition. 

Within a year of forming, the Animal Breeding and Research Department bloomed into the Animal Breeding Research Station and would eventually occupy Edinburgh’s Institute of Animal Genetics building. 

Mid-century discoveries 

The station made a number of important discoveries during  the war period on the health effects of mustard gas. 

The first genetics Nobel Prize awarded in Edinburgh was in 1946 for Hermann Joseph Muller's work discovering that X-rays cause gene mutations in fruit flies. 

In 1947, the UK Government's Agricultural Research Council formed the Poultry Research Centre and the Animal Breeding Research Organisation to help British farmers produce more food.  

Move to Roslin and recent discoveries 

In 1985 a number of animal breeding and genetics departments were relocated to a site outside Roslin village in Midlothian, which became The Roslin Institute some years later.

In 1996, Dolly the sheep was born at The Roslin Institute.  In the same year a former PhD student, Peter Doherty,  won his Nobel for work in understanding the immune system. Sir Paul Nurse, who was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, won a Nobel Prize for improving our understanding of cancer in 2001. And in 2010 another former Edinburgh post-doctoral researcher, Robert Edwards, won a Nobel Prize for his research on in vitro fertilization technology. 

In 2007, The Roslin Institute and the Neuropathogenesis Unit (formerly of the Institute for Animal Health) were merged. In 2008 the combined organisation became a part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and The Roslin Institute relocated to the University's Easter Bush Campus.

Enhancing lives

As we reflect on all that has happened over the past 100 years, it is also exciting to think about the future of animal breeding and genetic research.  At The Roslin Institute our principle aim is to continue to enhance the lives of animals and humans through world class research in animal biology, adding new chapters to the history of animal genetics in Edinburgh. 

Timeline of Roslin's History


Related links

Further Reading

Virus resistant salmon

An atlas for sheep DNA

Pigs that can resist fatal virus