22 February 2002
TREWAVAS PUTS THE BOOT IN: CHAPELA MUST HAND OVER SAMPLES OR BE SACKED
Berkeley microbial ecologist Dr. Ignacio Chapela is the new enemy because of the furore caused by his finding of GE contamination of Mexican maize:
Transgenic Corn Found Growing in Mexico, Nature Vol. 413, 27sep01
Like John Losey after his monarch study, he's discovering that peer-reviewed publication in Nature is no protector against attack.
Leading Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof Tony Trewavas writes to the AgBioView list:
"we should be asking Berkeley to request Chapela to release his samples so that they at least can be checked by using Southerns which is the obvious way to provide unequivocal data. Refusal to do so should then be used to request Berkeley to relinquish Chapella's position..." (see item below)
What is bizarre about this suggestion is:
a) Chapela, like Pusztai before him, is no lightweight figure. He has, for example, served on a committee of the US National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to the UK's Royal Society) studying the environmental impact of transgenic crops
b) His results have been confirmed by the Mexican government. On 17 September 2001, the Mexican environment ministry released partial results of its own study, which revealed that transgenic corn was found in 15 of 22 areas tested in Oaxaca and Puebla.
Academic and industry attacks on the findings of the Mexican Government
and the Berkeley researchers are clearly being orchestrated to keep the
scandal from embarrassing the biotech industry, as has recently been noted.
The fact that Chapela has been an outspoken critic of the Novartis-Berkeley
tie up has also placed him in disfavour.
But Chapella is certainly not the only one on the pro-GM lobby's hit list. According to Trewavas:
"...it is time to request that journals request information on membership of The Union of Concerned Scientist because Pusztai is or was a member as well and has also called for moratoria"
"...if this case turns out to be correct we should ask whether membership
implies that they are free to fiddle any data they like in the " greater"
From: "Tony Trewavas" <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 13:47:42 +0000
Subject: commentray on Chapela
This looks like the third case of those with political axes to grind allowing them to see things which really are not there. Or jumping the gun. Whatever. What is suffering is the reputation of science as being value free; reporting results accurately and independently regardless of our preconceptions. It has of course been the intentions of green organisations to do precisely this and Chapella, Pusztai and Ingham are doing or have done their bit to downgrade the independnce of advice and the reliance the public has placed upon it. The comments on Pusztai in the activist document are quite wrong. He was eight years over retirement and had special dispensation to complete this programme of work with Gatehouse. What he did wrong was not to publish his results first. Instead he decided that what he had was right and he need not be concerned about the views of others on the quality of what had been done. The scientific community reacted quite rightly, pointing out that we go to publication first because we can be wrong, as in Pusztai's case. I am also sure that Pusztai was not aware of the degree of testing that had been done for GM crops and like some, particuarly in the activist area, many has a distorted view of what GM is really about. Being a good lectin chemist does not fit you for dealing with population genetics, horizontal gene transfer and all the other intricacies that come into assessment of GM crop safety.
Ingham was found out in New Zealand again allowing, so far as I can judge, her political views to get the better of her scientific acumen and appraisal. We now know that much of what she said initially was not corroborated by others.
Now we have apparently what may be a third case. I think it is time to request that journals request information on membership of The Union of Concerned Scientist because Pusztai is or was a member as well and has also called for moratoria. I think questions should be aimed at the Union of Concerned Scientists asking it to change its name because it is a misnomer. People are concerned -- scientists provide independent apolitical advice. I should also add that if this case turns out to be correct we should aks whether membership implies that they are free to fiddle any data they like in the " greater" cause.
Are these reasoned appraisals of GM crops by members of the Union of Concerned Scientists or political ones? The continued increase in hectares down to GM crops indicates the judgement to be political. However I think we should be asking Berkeley to request Chapella to release his samples so that they at least can be checked by using Southerns which is the obvious way to provide unequivocal data. Refusal to do so should then be used to request Berkeley to relinquish Chapella's position not because the data may be poor or have political consequence but simply because the reputation of science will have been damaged by the interference of political aims to obtain the required results by whatever means. Furthermore if samples are provided then Chapella should be requested to take this material to an independent laboratory where the PCR can be repeated under supervision and by two distinct groups. Perhaps the Mexican Wheat Institute might be the most suitable place. To move this process forward it will be necessary to contact the HOD of the department Chapella is in to ensure compliance.
If a name could be publicised then I am quite willing to write or phone requesting action.
FRS university of Edinburgh
Anthony Trewavas FRS
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Phone 44 (0)1316505328
Fax 44 (0)1316505392
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~ebot40/main.html
ngin bulletin archive