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Ingemar Gustavsson (1938-2016)

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Cytogenet Genome Res 2017;152:167-168


Professor Ingemar Gustavsson, a pioneer in the field of veterinary cytogenetics, a friend and mentor to generations of cytogeneticists, passed away in his 78th year on October 14, 2016.

Ingemar was born in Växsjö Sweden, where he completed primary and secondary school and developed a passion for natural sciences at an early age working at a nearby field station of the Lund University during his summer holidays. He subsequently studied at the university in Lund, and at the Royal Veterinary College in Stockholm where he completed a fil. kand. (BSc), vet. kand. (BVSc), and vet. med. dr. (PhD). He held a professorship at the Royal Veterinary College and then at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Uppsala until his retirement in 2005.

Ingemar's long and productive research career focused on chromosomes and their fundamental role in animal physiology, fertility, health, and production in the context of agriculture and veterinary medicine. His thirst for knowledge and understanding, enhanced by an ability to envision and embrace new and relevant technologies, enabled him to make important contributions to our understanding of mitosis, meiosis, chromosome integrity, and the transmission of chromosomal variation in domestic animals which placed him at the forefront of the discipline.

In 1964, he reported three cases of what he termed the 1/29 robertsonian translocation in Swedish Red and White cattle suffering from virally induced leucosis [Gustavsson and Rockborn, 1964]. Subsequent field studies showed a 13-14% incidence of the translocation in the population. His rigorous analysis of breeding data resulted in the unequivocal identification of an association between heterozygosity for the 1/29 translocation and a 4-5% reduction in the fertility of the breed [Gustavsson, 1969]. This extensive study, which formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation, demonstrated that not only do chromosome abnormalities occur in domestic livestock but that they have physiological effects on carrier animals with economic consequences for the industry. This discovery immediately caught the attention of the cattle breeders and artificial insemination associations in Sweden and abroad. It catapulted Ingemar into the center of a debate focused on the pros and cons of screening and eliminating carriers from the breeding population. Eventually, the argument in favor of selective elimination of bulls carrying the translocation from use in artificial insemination prevailed, and the field of modern veterinary cytogenetics was established. Sweden became the first country to initiate a program of cytogenetic screening of cattle for the eradication of a genetic anomaly. Over the next 30 years, the program would see over 12,000 Swedish bulls screened, a decrease in the incidence of the translocation in the Swedish Red and White cattle to less than 1%, and a simultaneous rise in the overall fertility of the breed. The 1/29 translocation has now been identified in over 50 breeds spread throughout the world.

Ingemar was truly interested in all aspects of cytogenetics in all species and published some of the earliest descriptions of the karyotypes of a variety of species. He understood the consequences of chromosome imbalance on livestock health and reproduction and identified numerous abnormalities in cattle, pigs, horses, and fox. His desire to understand how these variations resulted in lower fertility led to pioneer studies into meiosis, chromosome make-up of embryos, and the segregation of abnormalities in the breeding populations. As cytogenetics techniques developed allowing more detailed chromosome analysis, Ingemar led his lab in studies to provide detailed and precise identification of individual chromosomes, chromosome regions, and specific gene locations. Initially, this information provided better identification of the regions and their chromosome content involved in abnormalities. However, in the larger context, these studies initiated a dialogue on the fluidity and change in the genomes of domestic animals.

Ingemar permanently changed the scientific landscape of animal breeding and genetics. But more importantly, he touched and changed the lives of so many people. Over the more than 40 years he worked as a scientist, he hosted young scientists from over 30 different countries including Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, and USA. Some stayed for a week, while others stayed for years. Each learned a great deal about cytogenetics and grew as scientists, but most of all, they grew as people. Ingemar became a role model for many. He made sure that every visitor experienced some aspects of Swedish life. This was often in the form of a family dinner at his home or a tour of Gamla Uppsala or Stockholm. Ingemar was generous to a fault and often paid travel and living expenses for visitors who otherwise did not have the means to visit the lab. He was particularly supportive of colleagues from eastern and central Europe who could not always freely travel to western countries. He invited them to his lab and often visited their labs, always with a suitcase of lab supplies. He often said in Swedish “huvudsaken är att man trivs”, which roughly translated means “the main thing is that you enjoy what you are doing”. This unofficial motto was clearly a creed by which he conducted his long and productive career in mammalian cytogenetics.

Ingemar is sadly missed by his family but also by friends and colleagues around the world. He leaves behind Anne Lisa, his three daughters Lillian, Helena, and Ulrika together with their partners and children.

W. Allan King

Guelph, Canada


  1. Gustavsson I: Cytogenetics, distribution and phenotypic effects of a translocation in Swedish cattle. Hereditas 63:68-169 (1969).
  2. Gustavsson I, Rockborn G: Chromosome abnormality in three cases of lymphatic leukaemia in cattle. Nature 203:990 (1964).

Article / Publication Details

Accepted: August 17, 2017
Published online: September 30, 2017
Issue release date: November 2017

Number of Print Pages: 2
Number of Figures: 1
Number of Tables: 0

ISSN: 1424-8581 (Print)
eISSN: 1424-859X (Online)

For additional information: https://www.karger.com/CGR

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  1. Gustavsson I: Cytogenetics, distribution and phenotypic effects of a translocation in Swedish cattle. Hereditas 63:68-169 (1969).
  2. Gustavsson I, Rockborn G: Chromosome abnormality in three cases of lymphatic leukaemia in cattle. Nature 203:990 (1964).