Charles Smith


The material presented here is taken from an obituary written by Dr. John King.

Charlie Smith was born in 1932 on an Aberdeenshire farm, the youngest of a family of six.  He took a degree in Agriculture at the University of Aberdeen and then went on to post-graduate studies at Iowa State University where he completed a PhD under J. L. Lush.  His work had been on the allocation of resources for improvement purposes.  Upon returning to Britain he joined the Animal Breeding Research Organization (ABRO) in Edinburgh.  He put his PhD ideas to work to improve the progeny testing of pigs in Britain which was modeled on the Danish system.  He identified a structural fault in the scheme that was corrected by restricting herds to a much smaller number.  In those days there was doubt about the effectiveness of selection as a means of improvement, and Charlie became involved in schemes for measuring genetic gain.

After 10 years he spent some time in the USA working on blood groups in pigs and their association with production traits.  He then shifted to human genetics in Edinburgh for six years in 1968.  The big stimulus at the beginning of this time was the development by D. S. Falconer of ways of treating categorical traits so that they could be treated as quantitative characteristics.  The estimation of recurrent risks for various diseases led to a series of important papers and the establishment of a genetic register system.  In all this, the consequences of preventative measures were also assessed for their effect on the population as a whole.

Charlie was persuaded to return to animal breeding by becoming head of the Department of Applied Genetics at ABRO in 1974.  He visited New Zealand upon returning from Japan at a Human Genetic meeting, and found the concept of breeding schemes for livestock improvement.  The first such group was established in Wales for the improvement of Welsh mountain sheep and continues as a successful enterprise.

Throughout his career Charlie was noted for collaboration with other branches of science (human genetics, plant breeders, economists).  Exploring ideas on inflation led to means of appraising improvement schemes in a way which had not been the normal practice.  Retrospective analysis of improvement schemes showed what good investments they had been in the past.  Charlie always interacted well with those introducing new ideas and on occasion these proved to be especially productive.  The outstanding example was his collaboration with Frank Nicholas in Australia (1983).  The history of this was that the reproductive biologists had introduced a means of multiplying cattle through multiple ovulation and embryo transfer (MOET) but ways of exploiting this technology had lagged behind.  Frank Nicholas came up with a scheme which opened up new possibilities.  Others in the scientific community largely neglected this scheme, but Charlie saw its promise and working in collaboration showed how much more rapid improvement in dairy cattle might be possible.  This involved not only the use of new technology but also consequent changes in herd structure making the change an entirely different proposition.  The first MOET herd was established in Britain by Premier Breeders.  Elaboration of the MOET principle led to a most productive phase in development of cattle improvement schemes.  Although selection in a small nucleus herd would be theoretically beneficial, it did lead to large increases in the rate of inbreeding and variable responses.

In 1987 Charlie left Edinburgh to take a Chair in Animal Breeding Strategies in the Department of Animal & Poultry Science at the University of Guelph in Canada.  Here he met many new collaborators, and many more students than he had done previously.  Much of his work was devoted to researching the likely impact of new developments like biotechnology on animal breeding.  Charlie was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1990, was awarded the J L Lush Award for Animal Breeding from the American Dairy Science Association, and became Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph.

Charlie was self-assured but modest and approachable, making friends in many walks of life.  He like to travel but preferred longer stays to short visits.  One of his outstanding characteristics was undoubtedly his ability to interact with scientists in other disciplines.  His later years in Guelph were marked by contacts with large numbers of students and his ability to bring out the best in them.  He did not spare the truth.  He rarely approached a subject without enriching it in some way, either through direct research findings or by introducing improved methods of analysis.

Charlie died in June 1997 from cancer just one week before a special symposium on Animal Breeding Objectives and Strategies held in his honour in Guelph.  The proceedings of that symposium bear testimony to his impact on the subject.