Emeritus scientist leaves a lasting legacy

Dr Allan Crawford, a valued and respected member of the AgResearch team for more than 30 years, passed away on Monday 13 February 2017.

Throughout his career, Allan was a scientist, science manager and research student supervisor. He is remembered for his staunch support of his staff, his insightful and gentle guidance of novel and applied research directions, along with his capacity to think broadly to identify opportunities across a range of disciplines and then mentor his staff with the requisite skills to address complex problems.

Early in his career Allan was a Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR) entomologist working on pathogens to control New Zealand’s worst pests. He then moved on to unravelling the genetics of ruminants.

From 1989, Allan worked at AgResearch, first at the Molecular Biology Unit based in the Biochemistry Department of the University of Otago and then from 1999 at Invermay.

Allan’s contributions were many including research addressing two major problems in sheep: internal parasites and facial eczema caused by a toxin produced by the spores of the fungus Pithomyces chartarum growing on pasture.

However, perhaps his key contribution was his rapid adoption of microsatellite genotyping technology for its use in sheep, deer and cattle. A world-first, this approach greatly sped up DNA marker development, reduced the quantity of DNA required, and decreased the cost more than ten-fold.

The development and use of DNA parentage assignment tests and software has had a major impact on New Zealand agriculture first for deer, then sheep, then cattle, and subsequently Pacific salmon. The Invermay group, with Allan’s supervision and input, continues to this day via a commercial entity called GenomNZ.

GenomNZ provides the most comprehensive DNA testing service for farmed species in New Zealand and acts as a valuable link from research to industry, undertaking DNA parentage analysis to identify and profile animals, trace pedigrees for breeding programmes, as well as tests for specific genes, such as those associated with disease and fertility. Their services are internationally recognised with samples being received from the UK, European Union, Canada, USA, South America, Iceland and Australia.

In 2002, Allan was awarded the McMeekan Memorial Award and later in 2012, AgResearch honoured him with the Emeritus Scientist role.

While he will surely be missed, it is very clear that he has left a lasting legacy.

  • Graduated with a BSc from Otago University 1972
  • Post Grad Diploma in Microbiology, Otago University 1973
  • Completed PhD in Microbiology at Otago University 1976
  • 1977-78 Canadian Medical Research Council post-doctorate fellowship at Queens University, Kingston, Canada.
  • 1979 employed as a scientist with Entomology Division, DSIR at Mt Albert, Auckland
  • 1989 employed as molecular biologist by MAFTech South, based in the Biochemistry Department, Otago University; and transferred to AgResearch with the formation of CRIs in July 1992.
  • Part of a team with Tom Broad, Diana Hill, Grant Montgomery, and Ken Dodds that received a Royal Society Science and Technology medal in 1995/96.
  • Awarded the McMeekan Memorial Award in 2002.
  • Elected FRSNZ in 2002 for his research in sheep genetics and genomics