Alan Robertson


The following information is taken from the 1989 book "Evolution and Animal Breeding,
Reviews on Molecular and Quantitative Approaches in Honour of Alan Robertson" editted by
William G. Hill and Trudy Mackay.

Born: February 21, 1920

Died: April 25, 1989
Married: Meg in 1947 and together they had three children, Mark, Hilary, and Michael,
and three grandchildren.

1941 - B.A. in Chemistry, Liverpool Institute and Cambridge University

1952 - awarded a DSc for work in genetics by Edinburgh University

1967 - Honorary Professor, Edinburgh University

1985 - retired

Honors and Awards

Alan worked on Operational Research with C. H. Waddington during the war,
and subsequently joined the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Animal Breeding
and Genetics Research Organization initially in Hendon and then, following a
period spent in the US with Sewall Wright and with Jay L. Lush in Edinburgh.
He remained in Edinburgh for the rest of his career, in what became the ARC Unit
of Animal Genetics directed by Waddington and then by Douglas Falconer.
Alan was promoted to Deputy Chief Scientific Officer in 1966, a rare appointment
for staff without administrative duties.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and of Edinburgh,
a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA,
a Foreign Honorary member of the Genetics Society of Japan,
received honorary doctorates from University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim, the
Agricultural University of Norway, the State University of Liege, and
the Danish Agricultural University, and was appointed OBE in 1965.

Further Views from Joseph Felsenstein (Chapter 1 in the same book)

Alan Robertson has been an influential figure in theoretical population genetics over the past 30 years.  One might imagine that in analyzing his contributions one should start with theoretical population genetics, and that his work in quantitative genetics and animal breeding flow from this base.  One could not be more wrong.  A cursory glance at a list of his papers shows that his work in animal breeding was his first and enduring concern with the population genetics coming from questions arising in animal breeding or quantitative genetics.  Alan Robertson's approach has been relentlessly practical, and as such it has been far less concerned with rigour than with practical utility.  If a rough approximation would be sufficiently accurate, then he saw no need to examine the general case more precisely if there were ways to use the approximation to get practical results.

In terms of subject matter, much of his work was concerned with effects of random genetic drift, with the joint effects of drift and linkage, and with drift, linkage, and selection.  Although it was Sewall Wright, partly through his influence on Jay L. Lush, who first treated the effects of genetic drift in breeding, this had not penetrated deeply by the mid-1950's.  Inbreeding coefficients were widely used, and inbreeding depression avoided, but there had been no serious attempt to consider the interaction of drift with selection.  Alan Robertson's role has been to fully integrate genetic drift into quantitative genetics and breeding, using the diffusion theory developed by Kimura and others.  That this would lead to an interest in evolution and to contributions to that field was inevitable.

One cannot read any number of his papers without immediately being struck by the conciseness and clarity of his thought and the elegant simplicity with which it is expressed.