Chris Lamb, 1950-2009


September 17, 2009

Chris Lamb, one of the world's leading plant scientists, has died.

He was born in York on 19 March 1950 then brought up by adoptive parents in Middlesbrough.

He obtained a first in biochemistry at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and stayed on for a PhD before transferring to the University of Oxford.

He was appointed ICI research fellow in the School of Botany in 1975, and then Browne research fellow at The Queen's College in 1977.

In 1982, however, although he had not yet held a permanent faculty position, Professor Lamb was invited to head the new plant biology programme at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

It soon became one of the most respected departments in the world, publishing papers on plant-pathogen interactions that enjoyed citation levels that were exceptional in such a restricted field.

After 17 years abroad, Professor Lamb returned to the UK to become Regius professor of plant science at the University of Edinburgh and then director of the John Innes Centre (JIC), funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to carry out "fundamental and strategic research" in plant science and microbiology.

He was also appointed professor of biology at the University of East Anglia.

Alongside his research, Professor Lamb was an active advocate for plant science, who believed researchers had to win public trust if they were to realise their full potential in addressing food shortages.

He welcomed the Government's decision to approve commercial production of genetically modified maize in 2005, "not least because they have chosen to make policy based on scientific evidence, rather than campaigning rhetoric".

He was also vocal about the difficulties of carrying out research when details of all trials had to be published on the JIC website. "You may as well put up an illuminated sign and invite campaigners to dig it up," he once said.

For Jonathan Jones, until recently head of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the JIC site, Professor Lamb was "part of a leading front of five to ten researchers helping us understand plant immunity.

"He was very good in making the case to the funding agencies that plant science can provide insights of broader significance."

Professor Lamb was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 2008 and appointed CBE in June this year. He died of heart failure on 21 August and is survived by his wife, Jane, their three children and a two-month-old granddaughter.

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