Donald | Hugh Paterson | 1908-1989 | geneticist and director of Animal Breeding Research Organisation

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Hugh Donald, was a key figure in the improvement of the science and practise of animal production. He was born in New Zealand and educated at the New Zealand agricultural college, Lincoln College, where he was a brilliant student and acquired three degrees by the age of 26. Initially he trained as a plant geneticist with an interest in discovering new varieties of wheat. In the early 1930s there were few opportunities in this field and he was advised by the plant geneticist, Otto Frankel (1900-1998), to switch to animal work. At that date Edinburgh was one of very few places in the world that was developing animal genetics, so in 1934 he joined the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University. However, Edinburgh had poor facilities for livestock work, and so for two years he worked on Drosophila with Rowena Lamy.

Shortly after completing his PhD thesis (1936) Donald was appointed junior lecturer at the Shotthead Farm under Alick Buchanan-Smith. Here he ran the farm (doing much of the manual work), the breeding programme, he did research and taught undergraduates. In the 1930s he worked with cytologists, geneticists, pharmacologists and his colleagues included Auerbach, Muller, Greenwood, Buchanan-Smith and Koller who all contributed to the new science of agricultural and pure genetics. Donald improved the quality and production of pigs, and by extension led to the improved quality of livestock generally. Much of his work emphasised the social and economic context for improved livestock and hence was particularly relevant for developing nations.

In the 1970s he described how the Edinburgh Institute under the leadership of Francis Crew in the 1930s combined laboratory work and practice in a multidisciplinary scientific setting. For Donald this was enormously stimulating and beneficial. He fostered this approach during his years as Director of the Agricultural Research Council's Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO) in Edinburgh. ABRO grew under his directorship to run six farms in the UK developing improved breeds such as Friesian, Ayrshire, Jersey cattle, and Blackface sheep. Donald was one of the first scientists to transfer embryos between different varieties of sheep. His studies of identical and fraternal twin cattle successfully improved fertility, body weight and milk flow.

In the 1950s Hugh Donald laid the foundation for human organ transplantation when he grafted skin between cattle twins. He was committed to the wider vision, and both his writings and his work contained an astute awareness of the ethical, economic and political controversies and future direction of animal breeding.


In the early 1950she collaborated with Peter Medawar (1915-1987) on exchange skin grafting between twin cattle.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Modern Development in Animal Breeding, ( 1966)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1937: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

1946-1973: Appointed Director of the Agricultural Research Council's Animal Breeding Research Organisation

1973-1989: Appointed Honorary Professor, University of Edinburgh

1974: Awarded Commander of the British Empire

1974-1975: Elected President, British Society of Animal Production


List of sources for the biographical information:

Obituary, The Scotsman, ( , The Scotsman, 1989)