Chris Lamb

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Professor Chris Lamb (died August 2009) was appointed director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, in 1999. He was also the John Innes professor of biology at the University of East Anglia. He was previously regius professor of plant science at the University of Edinburgh for 9 months and, before that, professor and director of the Plant Biology Laboratory at The Salk Institute for biological studies in La Jolla, California, which he joined in 1982.

Lamb took up the post of director of the John Innes Centre in October 1999, taking over from the JIC's acting director Mike Gale. His extensive experience of working with the industrial sector as well as substantial experience in dealing with private foundations were amongst his attractions. A BBSRC press release at the time noted his "extensive experience of knowledge transfer issues and of managing the interface between academic research and the commercial sector". Professor Ray Baker FRS, the Chief Executive of the BBSRC, was similarly quoted as saying that Lamb had "an excellent track record" in "exploiting scientific know-how in applied and commercial projects".[1]

Akkadix and John Innes Centre

The JIC's annual report for the year 2000-2001 states that amongst its continued building of collaborative links with industry is "Notably, Akkadix, an international gene discovery and functional genomics company".

Lamb, whose research interests include the genetic engineering of plant disease resistance, co-founded Akkadix, based in San Diego, California.

A press release from Akkadix of 2000 said that an agreement had been reached between Akkadix and the John Innes Centre for a "'targeted' activating tagging research program for gene discovery in the areas of disease resistance and plant natural product biosynthesis", stating:

Under the agreements with the John Innes Centre and the University of Edinburgh, the programs will be supported by Akkadix for an initial period of three years, and may be extended thereafter. Developments arising under the program will be available to Akkadix to license.[2]

A letter to the editor published in Nature Biotechnology (2003) said that Lamb was co-chair with Roger Beachy of the scientific advisory board of Akkadix, "which also funds the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK), of which he is the director".[3]

However, in a letter of 13 February 2009 to GMWatch's Jonathan Matthews, the JIC's head of communications Catherine Reynolds states, "Akkadix has never funded work at JIC." The letter does state that Lamb owned shares in Akkadix at the time he took up his directorship at the JIC in 1999 but adds:

his shareholding was declared and mechanisms for scrutiny put in place by the Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council and JIC.[4]

Akkadix was one of many biotechnology companies that was reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune as having "faded from the scene" when the San Diego biotech bubble burst in the early 2000s. The JIC's Catherine Reynolds says the company folded in 2000-2001.[5] Reflecting on the tendency of biotech companies to disappoint investors, the San Diego Union-Tribune referred to "The demise of Epicyte [Pharmaceutical]" as "the latest casualty for the region's fledgling agricultural biotechnology industry, which just five years ago appeared to hold considerable commercial promise." The article blamed "A consumer backlash against genetically-modified food, along with high-profile industry blunders" such as the StarLink GM corn contamination scandal, which "helped nip investor enthusiasm in the bio-engineered bud."[6]

Letters in defence of GM

Lamb has been keen to defend GM crops, regularly writing letters to journals and newspapers. He and Roger Beachy were among 18 co-signatories of a letter to Nature Biotechnology[7], which attacked an article critical of GM crops. Lamb was subsequently identified as amongst at least 11 of the signatories with undisclosed ties to companies that directly profit from the promotion of GM crops. Like Lamb, at least 4 of the co-signatories had direct links to Akkadix.[8]

When the development charity ActionAid published a critical report on GM crops in May 2003, Lamb sent virtually identical letters of complaint to The Independent and The Guardian. Although Lamb would have appeared to most readers to have been simply an independent scientist, the first two paragraphs of his letters are identical with the opening section of a press release put out by the biotech industry funded lobby group, CropGen.

The claims made by Lamb in the letters, of benefits to farmers growing GM crops in developing countries, are also almost identical with claims made in the CropGen press release. The claims are also controversial.

Lamb and CropGen both claim, for instance, that GM cotton has delivered significant yield increases to farmers in India. In fact, GM cotton performed so poorly in its first year of commercial cultivation in India (2002) that a six-member panel set up by the Gujarat government concluded it was "unfit for cultivation and should be banned in the state".[9]

Notes

  1. "New Director of John Innes Centre", press release, BBSRC, 1 July 1999, archived at Wayback Machine June 24, 2003, accessed February 2009.
  2. "Akkadix signs research agreement with The John Innes Center for novel gene discovery program", press release, 17 July 2000, accessed February 2009.
  3. Virginia A. Sharpe and Doug Gurian-Sherman, "Competing interests", letter to the editor, Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 21, No. 10, October 2003, p. 1131.
  4. Catherine Reynolds, head of communications, John Innes Centre, letter to Jonathan Matthews, director, GMWatch, 13 February 2009.
  5. Catherine Reynolds, head of communications, John Innes Centre, letter to Jonathan Matthews, director, GMWatch, 13 February 2009.
  6. Penni Crabtree, "Epicyte Pharmaceutical joins failing-biotech row", San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 May 2004, accessed February 2009.
  7. 'Divergent perspectives on GM food,' Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 20, No. 12, December 2002, pp. 1195-1196
  8. "2 Journals to Review Editorial Policies", Lobbywatch, accessed February 2009.
  9. Asha Krishnakumar, "A lesson from the field", Frontline, Volume 20 - Issue 11, May 24-June 6 2003, accessed April 7 2009
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