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Beale, Geoffrey Herbert (1913–2009), geneticist, was born on 11 June 1913 at 52 Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth, London, one of four children of Herbert Walter Beale (1874–1958), commercial traveller, and his wife, Elsie, née Beaton (1888–1970). After the family moved to Wallington, Surrey, he was educated at Sutton county school (1923–31), then the Imperial College of Science, London, where he gained first-class honours in botany in 1935. Inspired by the study of genetics, he joined the John Innes Institute in Norwich, then headed by J. B. S. Haldane, where he spent five years (1935–40) researching various aspects of plant genetics. His studies on the genetics of Verbena led to the award of a PhD in 1938.

Beale's research career was interrupted by five years' service in the armed forces, from 1941 to 1946. He joined the intelligence corps and was sent to Archangel and Murmansk in northern Russia, where his knowledge of Russian was an asset in liaising with the Russian military. After a spell at the War Office in London, he was sent to Helsinki in October 1944 as a member of the Allied Control Commission responsible for negotiating peace between Finland and Russia. During his army career he was promoted to the rank of captain and was appointed MBE for his services in 1947.

After demobilization Beale moved to a position at the Carnegie Institute in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, initially working on the genetics of Escherichia coli with Milislav Demerec. Subsequently he spent nine months on a Rockefeller fellowship with the protozoologist Tracy Sonneborn at Indiana University, Bloomington, working on the biology of the freshwater ciliate, Paramecium, a subject that continued to enthral him in his subsequent research career.

In 1948 Beale returned to the UK to take up a lectureship at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. Soon after, on 16 March 1949, he married the Edinburgh-born Betty Brydon McCallum (b. 1920), daughter of John Gibson McCallum, advertising agent; they had three sons. At the institute he continued his productive research on the genetics of Paramecium. He was promoted senior lecturer (1954), reader (1959), then Royal Society research professor (1963), a position held until his retirement in 1978, although he continued active research until 1998.

The Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh was at the forefront of research in genetics and there Beale established the Protozoan Genetics Unit in 1965. He built up an international research group studying the genetics of both free-living and parasitic protists. A significant step was to initiate research on Plasmodium, the parasitic protist responsible for the deadly human disease malaria. For this project he recruited David Walliker in 1967, who had gained his PhD with the eminent malaria expert Percy Garnham, and Richard Carter, who joined the group as a PhD student. Using rodent Plasmodium species as a proxy for the human parasites, they carried out ground-breaking studies demonstrating genetic recombination in malaria parasites in the mosquito vector. This set the stage for the subsequent demonstration by Walliker and Carter of genetic recombination in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, an achievement that led to the elucidation of the basis of drug resistance in this species. To study the growing problem of malaria drug resistance in the field, Beale initiated a long-lasting collaboration with Sodsri Thaithong during a Royal Society visiting professorship to Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, in 1976. This collaboration lasted well into Beale's retirement and resulted in many fundamental discoveries about the diversity and genetics of malaria parasites.

Beale authored many significant research papers on protozoan genetics, and seminal books on the biology of Paramecium, beginning with The Genetics of Paramecium aurelia (1954) and ending with Paramecium: Genetics and Epigenetics (written with John Preer, 2008). He also published (with Jonathan Knowles) Extranuclear Genetics (1978). Outside his immediate scientific discipline, he was also deeply interested in the influence of science on society, particularly modern genetics, and wrote articles about the harmful impact of Lysenkoism in the USSR and a refutation of the link between IQ and race. He had great talents for languages and music, mastering several languages and becoming an accomplished pianist and organist. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1959 and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1966. He also received an honorary DSc degree from Chulalongkorn University in 1996. He died in Edinburgh on 16 October 2009 and was survived by his three sons, Andrew, Steven, and Duncan; his marriage was dissolved in 1969.

Wendy Gibson


K. Vickerman and others, eds., A century of protozoology in Britain (2000) · British Society for Parasitology Newsletter (July 2007) · The Scotsman (2 Aug 2007) · The Guardian (2 Feb 2010) · Memoirs FRS, 57 (2011), 45–62 · www.malaria.ed.ac.uk/history, accessed on 23 April 2012 · WW (2009) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert.


photograph, repro. in Memoirs FRS, · photographs, repro. in Vickerman, A century of protozoology