Alan Marchant Downes

By Helen WolffOctober 11th, 2021

Alan Marchant Downes was born on 6th January 1926 and received his M.Sc. degree from the University of Sydney in 1948.

In 1956, Alan M. Downes was appointed to the research staff at the Sheep Biology Laboratory. A chemistry graduate from the University of Sydney where he also obtained a Master of Science degree in 1948, Downes first joined CSIRO’s Atomic Physics Investigation Unit in Melbourne as a Research Officer in early 1949 and worked with the Tracer Elements Investigation Group that was located in the Chemistry School at the University of Melbourne.

His early work involved the synthesis of isotopically-labelled materials required for tracer investigations, and developing techniques for processing radioactive materials before assay. When this Unit was disbanded in 1956, the personnel were dispersed to other CSIRO laboratories and prior to taking up his new appointment at Prospect, Downes spent some time at Amersham, UK to receive specialist training in the handling and preparation of radio-chemicals.


At the Prospect Laboratory, Downes’ team was enhanced in 1957 when his colleagues from Melbourne, Leo F. Sharry and AR (Ray) Till (both Experimental Officers) transferred to support his work on the use of radioactive tracers to assess wool growth, mean fibre diameter, fibre fineness and wool yellowness, as well as for monitoring the movements of solutes and small particles through the rumen of the sheep.

Colin. A Maxwell provided the group with technical assistance when he joined the Prospect staff in March 1959.

In 1965, Alan Downes received a Fellowship at Boston University School of Medicine to work with
Dr AG Maltoltsy, a renowned expert on the structure and function of skin. Together, they conducted a series of studies on the biochemistry and structural problems associated with wool keratinization.

When the program structure was introduced into the Organisation, Downes became the first chairman  of the ‘Skin and Fleece Biology’ program. Over the years, Warren G Ward and Lynette E Phillips assisted Downes and in the mid 1960s, Mrs Patricia A Wilson (EO/S) collaborated with him until she went on study leave to the Courtauld Institute, UK in 1971.

In July 1983, Alan Downes transferred to the Division of Molecular Biology where he worked until retirement in 1986.


  • Henderson R, 2021, Personal communication.
  • CoResearch no. 69 (December 1964), p. 4
  • Brown, B. (2010). A history of the CSIRO Ian Clunies Ross Animal Research Laboratory and site, Proposect, New South Wales, Blaxland, N.S.W. : Bruce W. Brown, pp. 101-102.