‘Wad’: Conrad Hal Waddington, 1905-1975

Today’s picture marks the 37th anniversary of Waddington’s death this week. As I am nearing the completion of the catalogue of his papers, it seems a doubly fitting time to reflect a little on the man he was.

Born in Evesham on 8 November 1905 and developing a love of fossils from an early age, Waddington (known to all his friends as ‘Wad’) went on to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge. After working in Operational Research during the Second World War, Waddington was appointed to two positions in Edinburgh: that of chief geneticist at National Animal and Breeding Research Organisation (NABGRO, eventually named ABRO), housed in the Institute of Animal Genetics, and the Chair of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University. Waddington was to remain at the Institute of Animal Genetics for the rest of his life, barring a few years at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he held the Albert Einstein Chair of Science in the early 1970s.

Waddington is renowned for his developmental biology work and his proposal of such concepts as canalisation and epigenetics . However, his papers reveal the vastly full and varied life he lived outside of his research and publishing work, not least the number of societies and organisations with which he was involved. Wad was a great believer in the power of science to educate, inform and help prepare a better future, and he utilised biological and evolutionary reference models as a way of analysing issues concerning human population and health, as well as the environment. Wad also had a major role in the expansion of the biological faculty of the University of Edinburgh.

The items in the photograph above are part of the collection of material, letters, ephemera and pictures that were collected from Waddington’s desk after his death and have remained more or less in their original order to this day.

A lot more information about Waddington and our collection of his papers will be available via the online catalogue, hopefully appearing in early 2013. Watch this space!

Transgenesis and Livestock Improvement in 1989

In the AFRC News, July 1989 article, ‘Transgenesis – a new way to better livestock’, scientists Alan L. Archibald, J. Paul Simons, Ian Wilmut and A. John Clark discuss various ways that gene transformation can improve livestock. They note that transgenesis combines recombinant DNA and embryo manipulation technologies and is a new way to approach genetic improvement. According to this article, the transgenic programme at the Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research (IAPGR) in Edinburgh is ‘not directed at producing agriculturally improved livestock’; instead ‘dairy animals (sheep) are being used as vehicles for the production of important human proteins such as clotting Factor IX (FIX) and alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT)’. The authors write that the short term benefits of transgenic animals are mainly to ‘increase the understanding of the genetic control of performance than they are to make a contribution to agricultural production’. Since this was written in 1989, it would be interesting to know if any of these short term benefits developed into anything long term! This image shows some scientists milking transgenic sheep carrying the gene for human blood clotting Factor IX.

Prize Pigs

Today’s item of interest is not from the Waddington collection, which is still being catalogued, although it is indirectly related to him. This trophy, now rather affectionately called by us “the Pigs’ Cup”, was awarded to the Institute of Animal Genetics in 1933 by the Scottish National Fat Stock Club (SNFSC) for “the best pen of pigs in classes 44-47”. This item came to us recently, along with several boxes of papers, from the King’s Building site located to the south of Edinburgh, where the Institute of Animal Genetics, established in 1919, was housed from 1924 onwards. Waddington himself did not come to the Institute until 1946, but the place was obviously active enough before his time to have gained this trophy!

Although this item is not currently part of the scope for ‘Towards Dolly’ (being a very recent acquisition), we hope to catalogue it and our many other genetics collections at a future stage. The ‘Pigs’ Cup’ demonstrates the continuous evolution of collections such as these. Considering the relatively recent history of genetics and the complex interrelationships between different genetics bodies and organisations in Edinburgh, new related collections are frequently coming to our attention – although they do not usually take quite this form!

Sneak a Peek Inside a Chicken’s Beak

In the 1987 series of off-prints from the Edinburgh Research Station (ERS) – Institute of Animal Production and Genetic Research (IAPGR), I found the interesting article – “Facial nerve sensory responses recorded from the geniculate ganglion of Gallus gallus var. domesticus” by Michael J. Gentle which appeared in the Journal of Comprehensive Physiology, Volume 160, (1987), p. 683-691. In this article he discusses an experiment in which a chicken’s facial nerve response is recorded ‘from the geniculate ganglion … following chemical, mechanical and thermal stimulation of the oral cavity using glass coated tungsten microelectrodes.’ According to Gentle, ‘ [T]he results show that the facial nerve plays the major role in gustatory physiology of the chicken and these results are discussed in relation to the mammalian gustatory system.’

The photograph shows the inside of a chicken’s beak – the anterior palate (AP), the posterior palate (PP), and the anterior mandibular area (AMA).