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Frank Clarke Fraser

Born 1920

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Canadian medical geneticist, born March 29, 1920, Norwich, Connecticut.

Biography of Frank Clarke Fraser

Frank Clarke Fraser's father was the Canadian Trade Commissioner, a man who loved poetry; his mother had a university degree in music. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut, but his family returned to Canada when he was an infant.

Fraser received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1940 from Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, with a thesis on the chromosomal number of an obscure water plant. He then enrolled at the McGill University in Montreal. There he obtained his Master of Science degree in 1941 for his studies of the effects of chromosome inversions in Drosophila. During World War II he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. When he joined the Royal Canadian Forces he was one of the scientists studying the biological effects of the recently invented DDT on Drosophila.

In 1945, Fraser obtained his PhD with a thesis on various hair and skin mutations in mice by the histological examination of skin grafts.

He became interested in genetics as applied to human conditions as well as the genetics of malformations in mice, and entered the medical school at McGill. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine degree from that university in 1950. He then joined McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Genetics. Two years later, at Montréal Children's Hospital, he was the founder of the first Canadian medical genetics department in a paediatric hospital. He was the director of this department until 1982. In 1955 he was appointed an Associate and in 1960 was made a full professor.

In 1958, the French scientist Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994) reported in a seminar at McGill's genetics department his discovery of the first chromosomal abnormality in man, an extra chromosome in patients with Down's syndrome.

From 1985, Fraser was professor emeritus at McGill.

More of Clarke Fraser's career:
From 1970 to 1982: Molson Professor of Genetics in the Department of Biology.
From 1973 to 1982: Professor of Paediatrics.
From 1979 to 1982: Professor in the McGill Centre for Human Genetics.
From 1982 to 1985: Professor of Clinical Genetics at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
From 1990 to 1993: Director of the Genetics Working Group of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies.

Honours, honourable positions and awards:
1961-1962: President of the American Society of Human Genetics.
1962-1963: President of the Teratological Society.
1966: Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
1980-1983: President of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists
1984: Officer of the Order of Canada.
1999: The Government of Quebec's Prix Wilder-Penfield, awarded for achievement in the biomedical sciences.

He is the author and co-author of more than 200 published studies, three medical genetics textbooks and papers on more than fifty syndromes.

He has four children, three of whom are professional musicians and the fourth a fish ecologist.

    "I still remember the excitement though some were skeptical. They said Down Syndrome was more likely to be a dominant mutation. Skepticism seems to be an almost automatic reaction to any new finding. It is difficult to strike a balance between skepticism and gullibility. An excess of either can be harmful."
    On Jerôme Lejeune's discovery of the extra chromosome in patients with Down's Syndrome.

    "It is interesting to reflect upon how much one's successes and failures are governed by chance. I was certainly lucky in the beginning of my career, just at the time when both medical genetics and teratology were just about to take off, so I was able to get in on the ground floor. This may be why I was the youngest president of both the ASHG and Teratology Society in successive years. I was also the only president of the ASHG who composed and sang a song dedicated to the ASHG as part of the presidential address. The song predicted the use of genetic engineering to transform genes."
    (sung to the tune of "Smiles")
    There are genes that make you happy
    There are genes that make you blue,
    There are genes that tell you who's your father
    And how you'll rate on your I.Q.
    There are genes that make your blood clot quickly
    And genes that tell how much you'll weigh
    But if you don't like the genes you're born with
    Try A.S.H.G. DNA

    "If I had not gone into the air force, I would not have been able to finance medical school. If Happy Baxter had not come across cortisone, I might never have become interested in the palate."

    "It is fun to solve puzzles, and to see whether your logical deductions, or intuitive hunches work out."

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