New patterns

I was interested to find among Waddington’s typescripts and manuscripts these notebooks containing the printed draft proofs of Waddington’s book New Patterns in Genetics and Development. The book was based on the Jesup lectures Waddington delivered to Columbia University in 1961 and was published by Columbia Press in 1962.

In New Patterns, Waddington not only explores the emergence of patterns in biological development, but also examines the new patterns of thought that had emerged in genetics and biochemistry. As ever though, he pushes forward to working towards developing new approaches, particularly with regard to morphogenesis (the biological process which causes an organism to develop its shape, causing ‘the appearance of organised structure within a vast range of sizes from the cellular organelle to the elephant’).

In typically visual language, Waddington describes the ‘ancient conundrum of morphogenesis’ as having ‘the attraction of a real frontier, a region where one is not just trying to fill in an already existing sketch map, but where one has to try and figure out the bare bones of the geography from scratch.’

I like how ‘patterns’ even find their way onto the covers of these notebooks!

Transgenic sheep – genetic engineering at ABRO

Since this is called the ‘Towards Dolly’ project after Dolly, the cloned sheep, created by scientists at the Roslin Institute, I was excited to find this article ‘Germline Manipulation of Livestock’ by ‘research workers’:  J. O. Bishop, A. L. Archibald, A. J. Clark, R. F. Lathe, J. P. Simons, and I. Wilmut on creating transgenic sheep in the 1986 Annual Report from the Animal Breeding Research Organisation. The article discusses the various new methods of changing animal genotypes that were recently developed. Also, how ‘a gene can be isolated from an animal or from man, altered in the laboratory, and introduced into individuals of the same or a different species of animal (usually a mouse) where it becomes incorporated into the genome and usually breeds true. Animals which have received genes in this way are said to be ‘transgenic’.’ Amongst the topics mentioned are: gene expression, cloned genes, focusing on mammary glands, the choice of sheep breed, proteins of commercial value, altering the composition of milk and ideas for the future.

I love the simplicity of the diagram showing the procedure to produce transgenic sheep!

A unique visual collection

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Back in a previous post I mentioned the work our wonderful conservators do to repair, rehouse and preserve archival materials to ensure that they survive for future generations to enjoy.

Possibly the most unique and unusual part of the material that will be catalogued and made available as part of the ‘Towards Dolly’ project is the collection of nearly 4,000 glass positive slides, dating from around 1900. These slides had previously been stored in large poultry sheds on the site of the Roslin Institute, and depict various plant and animal specimens (pictured), some perhaps from breeding competitions, as well as agricultural, scientific and industrial scenes from around the world. Quite a find!

Considering their age and their conditions of storage, the slides were in remarkably good condition, apart from around 200 which were badly damaged and cracked. This is where our conservators come in: Caroline and her assistant Anna (pictured) have been working hard over the past month or so to repair and rehouse these damaged slides, replacing the cracked glass, providing a robust frame for each slide to sit in and housing the slides in new boxes.

At present we have little idea what this slide collection may have been used for, or to whom they belonged. Later on in the project, Rare Books Cataloguer Kristy will be cataloguing these slides and we hope to eventually make them available digitally as a valuable resource not just for scientific research but also for historical, sociological and visual and artistic studies.

If anyone has any idea about these slides, or would like to know more about them, do get in touch!

Professor Robert George White, C.B.E. (1885-1976)

The first Director of ABRO was Professor R. G. White who held the post from 1945 to 1950 and afterwards held a consultancy post there until 1958. He had a special interest in farms and their management.  In 1943, when the Agricultural Research Council was considering the future of animal breeding research, Professor White, with his background in farm management and animal breeding, was asked to be the first director of NABGRO (later ABRO)in 1945. The organisation’s first project was the establishment of the Pig Station at Mountmarle and the Field Laboratory at Dryden.  Another project that Professor White was involved in at ABRO was to develop the farm at Aber which had both arable and ‘mountain’ land conditions. With his interest in animal breeding, Professor White used the Aber farm to breed a highly improved version of Welsh Mountain sheep that produced better wool and carcass traits. Additionally, this farm was used to improve the quality of ‘hill land’. According to his obituary written by H. P. Donald in the ABRO Annual Report from 1977, Professor White was interested in ‘the basic principle of matching the genotype to the environment…’.

Art Imitating…Science?


Conrad Hal Waddington, whose papers I am currently cataloguing, had interests which went far beyond science and genetics, as can be seen from an essay he wrote in 1923 while still at school. Titled ‘Alchemy’, it contains a history of the subject as well as some hand drawn occult illustrations (as depicted).

In fact, Waddington had a wide variety of interests throughout his life, including art – so much so that he published a book on the subject in 1969, Behind Appearance – as well as architecture (he married the architect Justin Blanco White). As well as appreciating art for its own sake, Waddington liked to see the scientific in art and the art in the scientific. In a lecture called ‘Form and Pattern In the Biological World’ (which Waddington delivered to the Architectural Association on 29 May 1958), Waddington commented:

Many recent writers on biological form have emphasised the fact that living things often produce shapes which are rather precisely geometrical, and which in fact come  near to belonging to the realm of intellectual abstract configurations.

And as you can see from the pictures, Waddington was not short of some artistic talent himself!