Previous Fora / 2011


Research Professor, University of Leida, Spain

Paul Christou

He received a first class honors degree in Chemistry (University of London) followed by a PhD in plant biochemistry (UCL, London) in 1980. Following postdoctoral research at UCL, he joined one of the very first plant biotechnology companies, Cetus Madison Corp (subsequently Agracetus, Inc.) Madison Wisconsin, USA. He led a research group which achieved the first genetically transformed staple crop (soybean). Subsequently his team developed a variety-independent gene transfer method for rice. These two achievements had a significant impact, as the first transgenic soybean on the US and global markets sold by Monsanto was a direct output of his group’s research efforts. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) sponsored in part a new department at the John Innes Center (JIC), Norwich, UK, under his leadership to transfer technology related to rice biotechnology from the private to the public sector. The RF also sponsored a training laboratory under his leadership at the JIC and from 1994-2001, well over 50 PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and senior scientists from 19 different countries had stays of 6 months to 3 years in this laboratory. He then joined the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biotechnology and Applied Ecology (IME) in Aachen/Schmallenberg, Germany, as a full professor to head a new department and simultaneously to help establish a new applied plant biotechnology institute. His research activities shifted towards the field of molecular pharming and the elucidation of mechanisms controlling expression of complex proteins, such as antibodies, in major crops. In 2004 he was offered a research professorship (ICREA) by the Catalan regional government to take a position at the University of Lleida as professor and head of the Applied Plant Biotechnology Laboratory. Currently his laboratory has four senior postdoctoral fellows, 14 PhD students and three Masters students. His group’s research activities center on the role of biotechnology for the betterment of impoverished people in the developing world. They are also interested in socio-political and other factors which are currently major barriers to the further development and adoption of transgenic crops, particularly in the developing world.




17:00-19:00 18 November
THEMATIC SESSION III. Brazil: “Sustainable Food Production”

Transgenic crops and better nutrition and health in the developing world versus political expediency and protectionism
Genetic engineering (GE) is one very important component of the multi-disciplinary strategy needed to tackle malnutrition effectively in a sustainable and durable manner. Multiple deficiencies can be tackled simultaneously using engineered staple crops containing high levels of different minerals and organic nutrients. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that aim to achieve relative improvements in the standards of health, socioeconomic status and education in the world’s poorest countries can be met in part through the application of plant biotechnology. Many of the challenges addressed by the MDGs reflect the direct or indirect consequences of subsistence agriculture in the developing world, and hence, plant biotechnology has an important role to play in helping to achieve MDG targets. The impact of this potential and further tangible progress are being hindered by the unwillingness of politicians to see beyond immediate popular support, favouring political expediency over controversial but potentially lifesaving decisions based on rational scientific evidence. The deployment of genetically engineered (GE) crops in developing countries is regarded by some as a sinister manifestation of ‘big business’ in science. What is often overlooked, and sometimes even deliberately ignored by opponents of the technology, is that many researchers working in the field are not motivated by profits but by a desire to see such crops applied to humanitarian purposes. GE crops could help to address many of the world’s most challenging, interrelated problems, including hunger, malnutrition, disease, and poverty. However, this potential will not be realized if the major barriers to adoption – which are political rather than technical – are not overcome.