Stanborough School, Welwyn Garden City (1968-1971) Sir Frederick Osbourn School Welwyn Garden City (1971-1973), University of Cambridge BA (1973-1977); PhD (1977-1981)
BA Cantab, MA, PhD
John Innes Centre, Norwich UK (1983-current) University of Copenhagen (2006-2010)
Research Scientist and Professor
John Innes Centre
Me and my work
Me: Research Scientist. My work: Designing ways to enrich crops nutrionally, and to identify healthy dietary constituents.
I am a theme leader at the John Innes Centre, the leading plant research institute in Europe and Professor at the University of East Anglia. My interests span from fundamental to applied plant science. I am particularly interested in cellular specialization in flowers (colour and cell shape) and how these traits are used by different plants for pollinator attraction.
Recently I have been co-ordinating research into the relationship between diet and health and how crops can be fortified to improve diets and in developing genetic screens to identify crops which lack toxins that cause nutritional diseases, such as konzo.
I am Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell, through which I have been piloting new features in scientific publishing, including ‘Teaching Tools in Plant Biology’ and I am a co-author of the undergraduate-level text book: Plant Biology published by Garland Science (2009).
My hopes for GM
My hope is that we will be able to develop nutritionally enhanced foods that protect consumers from chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer. GM represents one tool we can use for improving crops in this way.
My aspiration is to develop foods which are nutritionally enhanced and supply adequate vitamins and phytonutrients to reduce the risk in all consumers of major chronic disease. Plant breeding is one way to achieve such improved varieties and GM is another method. In many examples GM is the only route for biofortification. My hope is that consumers will be able to appreciate the improvements that plant biotechnology (both GM and non-GM) can bring to their lives. GM is a technique that can be used to develop crops with real advantages for consumers, but currently such innovation, which is usually supported by public funding (because crops with consumer benefits are of little interest to agroindustries) has little opportunity for development into products because regulatory approval is too expensive and only multinationals can afford to get it.
My fears for GM
That the potential of GM for crop improvement, and more sustainable agriculture will be lost, because of the high cost of deregulation and the long time it requires.
I worry that many of the very best ideas for crop improvement will be lost because of the high cost of deregulation, placing it beyond the reach of publically-funded organisations. To acieve food security, which involves ensuring that all people in the world have access to adequate nutritious food for an active and healthy life, scientists will need to use all technologies available to them. Intrinsically, the process of GM is not dangerous, although there is potential for detrimental effects depending on the gene(s) transformed. Where no potential detrimental effects can be established following risk assessments, consumers should be offered the choice of whether they wish to consume GM food or not. The concern is that products with significant benefits for consumers will never be available to them in Europe, whether they want them or not.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
tall, English, science-nerd
What is your favourite film?
Some like it hot
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A month-long vacation; An Aston Martin DB-5; To own a pig
What's your favourite view in the world?
Glacier Point Yosemite National Park
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Clone the MIXTA gene controlling cell shape in snapdragon