ABRO – The Animal Breeding Research Organisation

While the Institute of Animal Genetics originated in the early 1900s, the Agricultural Research Council formed the National Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation (NABGRO) in 1945 which housed the Institute directed by Conrad Hal Waddington. In 1946, it was renamed the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation (ABGRO) and was co-directed by Waddington (animal genetics) and Hugh P. Donald (animal breeding).  Then, in 1951, Donald was appointed Director of the renamed Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO). This happened when the Agricultural Research Council decided that there was a need to fund research in the area of genetic livestock improvement and so two organisations were established at the University of Edinburgh both undertaking theoretical and experimental research in quantitative genetics relevant to livestock improvement.

ABRO’s research activities involved a combination of laboratory and field work and covered various areas from ‘breeding mice for milk production, learning by immunological and biochemical methods what “blood will tell”, and climatological studies on sheep.’ It was also very involved in researching female reproduction since that is one of the main focuses for exploitation by the livestock industry. So, a great deal of research was conducted on the ‘behaviour of mammalian eggs, on the transfer of antibodies between dam and foetus, or on birth weights and survival ‘, other aspects of maternal performance; twinning in cattle, sheep and humans, in the structure of breeding populations and in the relations between individual and progeny performance shown by a range of different animals.  In addition to their research in animal genetics and livestock improvement, the scientists at ABRO were extremely knowledgeable in various aspects of practical farming and animal breeding.

Here’s a lovely photograph from 1968 of some of the ABRO scientists with one of their sheep!  Unfortunately no one in the photograph was identified, so if anyone knows who any of them are (even the sheep), please post a reply!

7 thoughts on “ABRO – The Animal Breeding Research Organisation

  1. I am trying to contact Dr. Michael L. Ryder who, I understand, was and maybe still is, connected with your organisation. I am a student at Sydney University doing my M. Phil. and would like to e-mail him if he is available. Do I have the correct organisation?

    Thank you.
    Jennifer Wright
    22 May 2013

  2. I have just newly come across this entry (13 June 2014) whilst gathering background material for something I am writing. I have 2 comments on the above (first let me say that latterly I was deputy director of ABRO and from 1974 head of the department that included both Dr Ryder and Dr Wilmut – the “begetter” of “Dolly” – but I retired in 1986 before “Dolly” came on the scene. I had joined the staff of ABRO – before it got that name – in 1947).
    1. I have had no contact with Dr Ryder for several years but his last addres known to me was 4 Osprey Close, Southampton, SO16 8EX
    2. re. your “lovely photograph” I can vouch for the fact that none of the men in the photo were scientists working at ABRO. By the look of them they are distinguished visitors. Some of the faces are familiar to me but I can no longer put a name to them.

    • Dear Gerald Wiener,

      Many thanks indeed for your fascinating message, and for passing on the details about Dr Ryder. I am very interested to hear of your long involvement with ABRO, and I imagine you must have many memories of working with the likes of Waddington et al. I’d certainly be interested in hearing more, and will send you a personal email.

      You may be interested to know that my colleague Kristy Davies catalogued 95 of your offprints as part of the project, the list of which can be seen on the project website here:

      All the best,

      Clare Button
      Project Archivist

  3. My father Dr. John Hall was at ABRO until his retirement in 1980. He died in 2012. Through him I knew several of the staff and have many fond memories of them. I do have various photographs and a limited amount of documentary material and would be only too happy to help in any way I can.

    • Dear Stephen, Thank you for your message. I am interested to hear of your father’s involvement with ABRO, and I’d like to hear more about the photographs and other material you have. If you would be happy to drop an email to clare.button@ed.ac.uk and let me know what kind of papers and how much, that would be very much appreciated. All the best, Clare

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