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Animal Breeding Research Organisation. ABRO (1945 - 1986)



  • Existence: 1945 - 1986
  • Usage: 1951 - 1986
  • Usage: 1945 - 1951


Towards the end of the Second World War, a survey group of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the Agricultural Improvement Councils of the United Kingdom identified the need for large scale research into the breeding and genetics of livestock in order to aid the improvement of Britain's agricultural output. In 1945 the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) established the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation (ABGRO), with the intention to carry out both fundamental genetics research (in the 'Genetics Section') and large-scale breeding experiments on livestock. R.G. White, then Professor of Agriculture at the University of North Wales at Bangor, was appointed director, while the developmental biologist C.H. Waddington was appointed Chief Geneticist of the Genetics Section.

Initial discussions indicated that ABGRO might be located in Oxford, but it was decided that Edinburgh would be more appropriate, given its strong reputation in animal breeding and genetics research at the Institute of Animal Genetics, with its close links to the University. Waddington was also offered the post of Buchanan Chair of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh (in succession to F.A.E. Crew). ABGRO moved to Edinburgh in 1947, with the Genetics Section being housed within the Institute and the animal breeders based within Glenbourne House nearby. In addition, staff of both sections and their families were housed together in Mortonhall, a large house also to the south of the city. This unusual arrangement soon led to frictions and, after an official ARC enquiry, ABGRO was formally separated into two distinct parts. Waddington became a full employee of the University and headed up the former 'Genetics Section' - which in 1957 became known as the ARC Unit of Animal Genetics - as well as continuing in his role as Buchanan Professor. In practice, this meant that Waddington was de facto the overall director of the Institute of Animal Genetics (also referred to as the University's Genetics Department).

Meanwhile, ABGRO now became known as ABRO (the Animal Breeding Research Organisation) under the new directorship of H.P. Donald, and continued its research into applied and theoretical problems in animal breeding. ABRO had the use of a number of farms of varying types located in Scotland, Wales and England, for field research and large-scale breeding experiments and the maintenance of carefully controlled inbred lines of livestock. Much of the research focused on the genetic improvement of the animals, and involved inbreeding and crossbreeding trials and investigations of such areas as metabolic fitness, immunogenetics and factors affecting, for example, meat quality and hardiness. Some key successes over the decades were the improvement of dairy cattle through artificial insemination, the genetic improvement of pig breeds and the introduction of sheep group breeding schemes, while research on the sheep disease scrapie led to the creation of a Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU) in Edinburgh. ABRO also operated the financially self-sufficient Cattle Blood Typing Service, which was widely used by breeders and breed societies as a check on the parentage of valuable pedigree bulls.

Like many research institutes, ABRO suffered from economic uncertainty and reduction during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986 it became part of the Edinburgh Research Station of the new Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research (IAPGR), which had its headquarters in Babraham, Cambridge. In 1989, former ABRO staff moved from the building ABRO had occupied since 1964 on the University's King's Buildings site to the Edinburgh Research Station site in Roslin, Midlothian.

ABRO directors

R.G. White
H.P. Donald
J.W.B. King
R.B. Land (from 1986-1988 Head of Station of IAPGR-ERS)

Found in 14 Collections and/or Records:

ABRO Annual Reports, 1963-1986

Identifier: EUA IN23/1/1/2


 Digital Record
Identifier: 1aec8737-58ab-4f13-95ac-02564af486be_0

File concerning a feasibility study for the combined administration of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation, Poultry Research Centre and the Neuropathogenesis Unit, 1983

Identifier: EUA IN23/2/2/3
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Fonds:

Comprises administrative, financial, personnel and estates records of the PRC, as well as reports, publications and visitors books. These files are chiefly those of the PRC Secretary, Alistair Menzies. There is a very limited amount of research material.

Dates: 1983

File relating to the ADAS-ABRO Hereford Sire Line Evaluation, 1988-1990

Identifier: EUA IN23/3/7/1/15
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Fonds:

Comprises records of IAPGR-ERS which relate to governance, administration, finance, legal, estates, human resources, external relations, events and publicity. Also contains some research data. Most of the files are from the Secretary's office, although there are some from the Head of Station and individual scientists.

Dates: 1988-1990

Material relating to the history of the PRC and ABRO, 1942-1965

Identifier: EUA IN23/2/2/1
Scope and Contents Contains:'The Origin and Early History of ABGRO' by R.G. White, dated September 1965 (20 pages); two typed pages providing a summary of the PRC (undated); Bulletin of the Poultry Association of Great Britain, including 'Some Aspects of Poultry Research at Edinburgh' by Alan Greenwood, and 'Poultry Farmers and the New Income Tax Proposals' by John R. Harvey (1942); 'The Poultry Research Centre, Edinburgh' by Alan Greenwood, reprinted from the 1951 Year Book of Poultry Association of Great...
Dates: 1942-1965

Papers of Gerald Wiener relating to the history and research of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation

 Fonds — Box CLX-A-1440
Identifier: Coll-1701
Content Description Contains photocopied documents relating to the proposed cuts and changes to ABRO's research programme.At SC-Acc-2021-0083 there is a Word document entitled "The need for food: the history of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation, before Dolly – an eyewitness account." written by Gerald Wiener in 2021. Wiener was the deputy director of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO) until his retirement in 1986. He was also one of the scientific staff appointed to ABRO in...
Dates: 1982; 2021

Papers of St Clair Taylor relating to the Animal Breeding Research Organisation multibreed projects

 Fonds — Box CLX-A-352
Identifier: Coll-1850
Content Description

Comprises paper drafts, data and notes relating to Taylor's research on multibreed projects at the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO) during the 1970s-1980s. Taylor has also provided contemporary annotations and information on potential future projects using the digitised experimental data provided here on two DVDs.

Dates: 1972-2017

Records of Roslin Institute and predecessor institutions

Identifier: EUA IN23
Scope and Contents

This collection comprises the administrative records of Roslin Institute and predecessor institutions. The records cover a range of areas and include meeting papers, reports, financial and legal documents, staff files, research data and press cuttings.

The majority of the records originate from the institutional Secretary's office, although there are a number of files from the Director and some from individual scientists. This information is captured in the catalogue.

Dates: 1948-2010

Records of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO), 1946-1986

Identifier: EUA IN23/1
Scope and Contents

Comprises administrative, financial and estates records of ABRO, as well as reports, publications and press cuttings. There is also a large amount of research data, including the working papers of the scientist St Clair Taylor.

Dates: 1946-1986

Roslin Institute Offprint Collection

Identifier: Coll-1362
Scope and Contents

Contains bound volumes of offprints from the Roslin Institute and its predecessor institutions.

Dates: 1947-2007