'Garden Sowed Seeds of Doom' Professor Says Botanic Centre Lost Scientific Credibility by Shunning Genetic Engineering

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Dube

A LEADING Welsh scientist says the troubled National Botanic Garden was doomed from the start after turning its back on genetically modified crops to secure the Prince of Wales as patron.

Tony Campbell, Professor of Medical Biochemistry at the University of Wales College of Medicine and founder of the Darwin Centre for Biology and Medicine in Pembrokeshire, claims the institution was bound to fail because it pandered to Prince Charles's aversion to genetic engineering.

Professor Campbell said he was told that the Prince had let it be known that he wanted the institution to have nothing to do with genetic modification and that his views had made senior Garden staff terrified of anything to do with the technology.

'I want to know what role the Prince played in determining the science programme,' he said.

But his claims have been dismissed by the Garden's chairman, while a spokeswom2 3an for the Prince of Wales said, 'There were no conditions attached to the Prince's patronage of the Garden.'

Professor Campbell, who pioneered the study of living cells based on the genetic engineering of certain proteins, said the block on GM technology meant the scientific side of the project was flawed from the start.

He claimed the Garden, now called Middleton, had no meaningful scientific plan at all and had made few efforts to establish a network of research across Wales or attract scientists there.

'A botanic garden must have a robust science plan that will stand up to peer review and it must have DNA and genetic modification at the heart of it,' he said.

Professor Campbell said GM research was already under way at Iger in Aberystwyth and other research centres in Wales.

Instead, he claims to have been shouted down at a scientific seminar in the earliest days of the Garden, when he showed a transgenic plant that glowed in the dark.

Professor Campbell's success in developing such technology, which is now widely used for clinical diagnostic purposes, has made him a rich man and earned pounds 10m in patent rights for the College of Medicine.

It involves genetically modifying plants with DNA from animals that produce light.

'I got shouted down because they were terrified of genetic engineering and GM,' he said.

'I'm not promoting the planting of GM crops. But genetic engineering is the cutting edge of botanic science and if there are any barriers to its study at the Garden the project is doomed. …