Douglas S. Falconer


Date of Birth: March 10, 1913, Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire.

Married with two sons.

    1921-1926, Cargilfield
    1926-1931, Edinburgh Academy
    1932-1936 - Recovered from tuberculosis.

    1936-1940, St. Andrews.  BSc Honours in Zoology.
    1940-1943, Cambridge.  PhD in 1943.  Sc.D. 1969.

1943, Temporary lecturer in Zoology at Queen Mary College (then in Cambridge).
1945, Research assistant (ARC grant) to R. A. Fisher in the Department of Genetics, Cambridge.
1947-1968, Scientific staff of the ARC at the Institute of Animal Genetics, University of Edinburgh.
1954, Visited USA as Kellogg Fellow in Agriculture.
1957, Deputy Director of the ARC Unit of Animal Genetics.
1968, Professor of Genetics, Edinburgh, and Director of ARC Unit of Animal Genetics.
1969-1977, Head of Department of Genetics, Edinburgh.
1980, Retired
1981, Visiting Professor, Dept. of Genetics, Univ. of California at San Diego.
1989, Visiting Professor, Dept. of Biology, Dept. of Animal Science, VPI, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Famous Book: Introduction to Quantitative Genetics, 1960, 1981, 1989, and 1996.
He wrote 95 research papers from 1942 to 1993.  Another book: Problems on Quantitative Genetics, 1983.

The following was written for a special issue of Genetical Research in his honour by W. G. Hill and Trudy Mackay.

An understanding of the genetics of quantitative traits, for which phenotypes of individuals in a population form a continuously graded series from one extreme to the other and do not fall naturally into sharply demarcated types, has long been recognized as essential for livestock and crop breeding, the study of evolution, and human health.  This is even more true today than in the past, given our current ability to study individual quantitative trait loci (QTL) by linkage to polymorphic molecular markers.  Further there is a growing realization in this post genomic era that it will be necessary to apply the methodology of quantitative genetics if we are to determine the subtle functional effects of mutational and segregating variation at loci of unknown function.

The University of Edinburgh has been a centre for quantitative genetics research and teaching for over half of this century.  From the late forties to the late eighties, several groups, including the University of Edinburgh Department of Genetics and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Unit of Animal Genetics, were accommodated in the Institute of Animal Genetics.  Following reorganization of biology departments at the University of Edinburgh, the new Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology (ICAPB) was founded in 1990.  Research in quantitative genetics continues to be a major focus at ICAPB.  Much seminal work in quantitative genetics by the Edinburgh groups and worldwide has been published in the pages of Genetical Research.  Originally founded at the Institute of Animal Genetics in 1959/60, the journal was edited by Eric Reeve for over 30 years before and after his retirement.  The main editorial office is now housed in ICAPB.

Douglas Falconer is one of the major contributors to the tradition of research excellence in quantitative genetics at the University of Edinburgh.  Among his notable contributions are the analysis of short and long term selection response for growth rate in mice, introducing the concept of the genetic correlation for defining genotype by environment interaction, and his elegant elucidation of the heritability of threshold quantitative traits.  These contributions were recognized by his election to the Royal Society.  Douglas was head of both the ARC Unit of Animal Genetics and the University of Edinburgh Department of Genetics from the late 60's until he retired in 1980.  Douglas Falconer's impact on the field of quantitative genetics goes beyond his considerable research contributions.  He is undoubtedly the most influential teacher of quantitative genetics in the last half of the century.  His "Introduction to Quantitative Genetics" was based on lectures given to advanced undergraduate and Master's level graduate students, and has been the most widely used text for researchers and students in the area since it was first published in 1960.  Subsequently new editions were published in 1981, 1989, and a fourth with Trudy Mackay in 1996.  It has also been translated into several languages.  What is most notable about the book is its clarity, and the fact that this has been mainained over the development of the subject.  Falconer having resisted the temptation to let the text grow and become more complicated.

Although Douglas Falconer is now 86 he still comes into the lab each week, maintains broad interests and participates critically in discussion.  He remains modest and self-effacing.