Crew | Francis Albert Eley | 1886-1973 | professor of animal genetics, University of Edinburgh

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Francis Albert Eley Crew graduated from Edinburgh University Medical School in 1912. As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh he had had a foretaste for genetics whilst attending the lectures of Arthur Darbishire (1879-1915), a pioneer of genetics, those of Francis Marshall (1878-1949), a pioneer of reproductive physiology, and of Sir Edward Sharpey Schafer (1850-1935), endocrinologist and professor of physiology at the University of Edinburgh (1899-1933). He and his wife then set up a medical practice in Devon. Here he rediscovered his childhood interest for breeding bantams. With the outbreak of World War I he joined up and as an ex-territorial reached the rank of Major. At the end of the war he returned to Edinburgh as an assistant in the department of zoology. Crew supplemented his income by demonstrating to medical students in the department of physiology. It was partly due to the success of this that he was appointed as first Director of the newly-founded Institute of Animal Breeding.

Very soon Crew was attracting distinguished scientists to the Institute, including: John Haldane (1892-1964), Lancelot Hogben (1895-1975), and Julian Huxley (1887-1975). Crew's first substantial publication appeared in the Journal of Genetics in 1921, and between then and the move to the King's Buildings in 1924, he contributed regularly to research in the fields of intersexuality and sex transformations in mammals and birds. The department then received a grant of £30,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation, which was supplemented by gifts from colleagues and well-wishers, and a brand new building: the Institute of Animal Genetics was built in 1930. Crew was appointed Buchanan Professor of Animal Genetics in 1928. During the 1930s the period of financial depression meant that any plans for the Institute's development had to be put on hold, but the rise of Mussolini and the Third Reich forced many scientists out of their native countries to find a new home at the Institute. These included: Hermann Muller (1890-1967), Charlotte Auerbach (1899-1994) and Guido Pontecorvo (1907-1999). Crew and Muller managed to assemble a group of some twelve postgraduate students to conduct research under them.

Professor Crew contributed greatly to the understanding of mechanisms of inheritance, the genetics of sex and the physiology of the endocrine glands. Throughout his career Crew kept up strong contacts with poultry breeders, farmers and bird fanciers, and this meant that specimens of mammals and birds exhibiting sexual abnormalities of one sort or another, were more easily obtainable to him. It was through his work with goats that Crew first noticed these anomolies. He then transferred his work on intersexuality through to other animals, and more particularly to the domestic fowl. This work on sexual abnormalities in different breeds of the domestic fowl covered the period (1922-1938).

In 1939 the International Congress of Genetics met in Edinburgh with Crew as President. This event signalled the end of his career as a geneticist, as soon afterwards at the beginning of the War he was drafted to command a military hospital. He played a major part in founding the Polish Army Medical School in Edinburgh. He also undertook the ambitious job of writing for the official Army Medical History of the War (HMSO). In 1944 Crew began a second academic career as Professor of Public Health and Social Medicine. He was founder and first editor of the British Journal of Social Medicine.


Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Animal Genetics: an Introduction to the Science of Animal Breeding, ( 1925)

Organic Inheritance in Man, ( 1927)

Genetics of Sexuality in Animals, ( 1927)

Genetics in Relation to Clinical Medicine, ( 1947)

Measurements of the Public Health: essays on social Medicine, ( 1948)

Must Man Wage War?: the Biological Aspect, ( 1952)

Army Medical Services: Administration, ( 1953)

Sex Determination, ( 1954)

Army Medical Services: Campaigns, Vol.1, ( 1956)

Army Medical Services: Campaigns, Vol.2, ( 1957)

Army Medical Services: Campaigns, Vol.3, ( 1959)

Army Medical Services: Campaigns, Vol.4, ( 1962)

Army Medical Services: Campaigns, Vol.5, ( 1964)

Sex Determination, ( 1965)

Foundations of Genetics, ( 1966)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

Awarded Keith Prize, Royal Society of Edinburgh

1942-1946: Appointed Director, Medical Research, War Office

1946-1956: Appointed Chairman, Board of Management, Edinburgh Central Group of Hospitals

1946-1956: Appointed Member, Army Health Advisory Committee


List of sources for the biographical information:

Burnett, John H, The University Portraits, vol ii, (Edinburgh, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1986)

University of Edinburgh, The University of Edinburgh Journal, vol. 26, (Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press Ltd, 1973-1974)

Hogben, Lancelot, Francis Albert Eley Crew: Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society, vol. 20, (London, Royal Society, 1974)