Plant science loses its strongest voice

Sad news on my return from holiday. Chris Lamb, director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich for the past 10 years, died suddenly on Friday at the age of 59.

Chris was an outstanding plant biologist and a powerful voice for plant science, during a difficult decade when the environmental movement’s campaign against genetically modified crops made life difficult for his field of research in the UK and Europe.

By a horrible coincidence, Chris died just a month after the sudden death of Mike Gale, his equally eminent predecessor as JIC director.

Chris’s own research, which he managed to continue while running the JIC, focused on the way plants defend them against pathogens – and led to new ways of protecting crops against disease. He started his career at Cambridge and Oxford universities then spent 16 years during the 1980s and 90s in the US as director of the plant biology lab at the Salk Institute in California, before returning to the UK.

Although he himself did not work directly on GM crops, Chris was a stout defender of plant genetic engineering. It is a pity that he did not succeed in rousing more of his fellow plant scientists to become involved in the GM debate.

Chris’s articulate conversation and convivial nature made him a good lobbyist for the JIC and plant science. For example he hosted with Charles Clarke, the Norwich South MP and former Labour Cabinet minister, regular dinners at the House of Commons to discuss all aspects of science with politicians, journalists and other opinion formers.

The world of plant science will miss him immensely.

Chris Lamb in his glasshouse

Chris Lamb in his glasshouse

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