ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

28 February 2002


A key player in the attacks on Ignacio Chapela is a researcher at the John Innes Centre, the UK biotech institute that has won notoriety for its attacks on other researchers whose work has raised questions about GE crops.

JIC scientist Paul Christou, well known for his extreme pro-GE stance, recently launched an attack on Chapela's work via an editorial in Transgenic Research (No Credible Scientific Evidence is Presented to Support Claims that Transgenic DNA was Introgressed into Traditional Maize Landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico, Transgenic Research 11: iii-v, 2002). This has in turn been used to bolster a campaign of attack on Chapela initiated on Prakash's AgBioView list immediately upon publication of Chapela's paper in Nature.

In 2001 the John Innes Centre received a PANTS ON FIRE AWARD for its history of propagandising in support of GM crops.

The latter has included bogus or grossly misleading attacks clearly intended to undermine or discredit the work of Dr John Losey and Dr Arpad Pusztai.

In the case of Losey et al's monarch study published in Nature, the Head of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the JIC, and Paul Christou's boss, Prof David Baulcombe, publicly claimed that butterfly larvae were harmed equally by non-GM and GM corn pollen in Losey's experiment, even though only those larvae which fed on the GM corn pollen died!

Prof Baulcombe also dismissed Arpad Pusztai's research on GM potatoes in comments to the New Scientist. Christou's colleague at the JIC's Sainsbury Centre, Dr Phil Dale, is also known to have made comments about Pusztai's research that were grossly misleading, claiming there was nothing surprising about Dr Aarpad Pusztai’s reported findings, of adverse effects on rats from eating GM potatoes, because the gene inserted was a lectin and lectins are well known toxins. This is very misleading because not all lectins are considered dangerous to mammals - we consume them, for example, every time we bite into a tomato - and, needless to say, the lectin used in Dr Pusztai‚s research (the GNA lectin) was chosen precisely because it is considered normally toxic only to insects and not to rats or humans.

Paul Christou's attack on Chapela seems to follow the familiar pattern. It has been characterised by Dr Peter Rosset as "intentionally ingenuous" because it ignores the fact that Chapela's Nature article was fully peer reviewed; that Chapela was extremely careful about seeking to avoid contamination of the results; and that those results have been confirmed by at least two other independent studies.

Rosset concludes, "I'm sure he [Chapela] will ignore the Transgenic "hit piece" -- I know I would, as I consider it a more academically pretty form of thuggery."

Prof Mike Gale, the former Acting Director of the JIC, has publicly stated that any serious slow down or halt in the development of GM crops "would be very, very serious for us"
<> and Chapela's research has already led to a postponement of a challenge to the EU's moratorium on new approvals of GM crops planned for the March summit in Barcelona.

Meanwhile the orchestrated complaint over Chapela is descending further into farce. One of the latest pieces published on Prakash's AgBioView list claims that those protesting at the character of the attacks on Chapela are undermining "the very pillars upon which modern day science rests. Peer review and the ability to repeat someone's work in a different lab are critical features of modern science. To start attacking science at this fundamental level would suggest that either these organisations have no clue how modern science operates or they have reached a state of desperation indicative of a lost cause." [Stevens M. Brumbley, Senior Research Scientist. Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Indooroopilly, Queensland, AUSTRALIA]

So how one may wonder is peer review - this critical feature of modern science - attacked when Chapela's piece was peer reviewed prior to its publication in Nature by 6 different reviewers. Replication is important? Could that be why Chapela called for further research to check his findings out. And if replication in a different lab is critical, why are Chapela's attackers, like Christou at the JIC, studiously ignoring the fact that his results have been confirmed in other independent studies?

The only 'pillars' being challenged by those drawing attention to this carefully crafted witch hunt are those used to sustain corporate interests by manipulating science to exclude research evidence that poses problems for industry.
February 28, 2002
Nature 415, 948 - 949 [via Agnet]
Declan Butler

A political row has, according to this story, erupted over a scientific paper by authors who claim to have found transgenic DNA from genetically modified (GM) maize in local varieties of the crop in Mexico.

Calls from environmental groups to halt the planting of transgenic crops in Mexico and elsewhere followed hot on the heels of the paper's publication in Nature last November (Nature 414, 541?543; 2001pattern-text). But some researchers have since raised questions over the study's validity.  The story explains that the paper was written by Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University of California, Berkeley in which they report that a promoter sequence of DNA that originated in the cauliflower mosaic virus has shown up in creole maize varieties in two remote mountain areas of Mexico.

Their results led the authors to ask whether such gene flow would threaten native species of maize in Mexico, the centre of origin for the crop.  But, the story says that an editorial in this month's Transgenic Research (11, 3-5; 2002) says that "the data presented in the published article are mere artifacts resulting from poor experimental design and practices". The article was written on behalf of the journal's editorial board by the editor, Paul Christou, who is director of the molecular biotechnology unit at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK. It concludes that "no credible scientific evidence is presented in the paper to support claims made by the authors".

Philip Campbell, editor of Nature, was cited as declining to discuss the matter in detail, adding, "We treat all submissions as confidential and so are not willing to comment on specific cases. Our policy in general is to consider criticisms received after publication as promptly as possible."

But, the story says, on 19 February, 144 non-governmental organizations, led by the Canada-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC), issued a statement alleging that "pro-industry academics are engaging in a highly unethical mud-slinging campaign against the Berkeley researchers".  The statement calls on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which runs 16 agricultural research laboratories around the world, to "propose an immediate moratorium on the shipment of GM seed or grain in countries or regions that form part of the centre of origin or centre of genetic diversity for the species".

Alex Avery, director of research at the Virginia-based Center for Global Food Issues, which supports agricultural biotechnology, was quoted as dismissing the ETC's statement as "some last-minute damage control before the Quist and Chapela study is thoroughly refuted". He claims that the ETC "doesn't care about the scientific debate - it is just trying to sway reporters into bolstering the credentials of Chapela and Quist".

Tim Reeves, director of the CGIAR International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico was quoted as saying, "Gene flow is a constant. The real question is whether it makes any difference if one of the genes that flows in is a transgene."

Scientists are divided on that question. Some argue that the transgenes will reduce genetic diversity, whereas others contend that they could either have a neutral effect or actually enhance diversity.
"...the 'sound science' movement is not an indigenous effort from within the profession to improve the quality of scientific discourse, but reflects sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients." Doctors Elisa Ong and Stanton A. Glantz writing in the America Journal of Public Health, November 2001

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