Worm work wins medal

August 11, 1995

Howard Atkinson at the University of Leeds has won the Research Medal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England for his work on tiny worms called nematodes, which cost world agriculture $100 billion annually.

As director of the Centre for Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology, he and his team of more than 40 researchers are working on two main ways of preventing nematode damage.

One involves turning the female nematode into a male, so eliminating the egg laying female. The other approach is to block the worm's ability to digest the plant proteins so it starves.

Professor Atkinson has attracted funding from industry, the Overseas Development Administration and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council for his work, which has so far cost about Pounds 1.3 million.

He has also been able to ensure that the rights for use of the techniques will be freely available for use with various crops in many developing countries.

His industry experience will be useful in a role he has just taken on as one of six academic directors of Calyx Plantech Ltd. This biotechnology company has just been set up by six British universities - Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Warwick and York - to capitalise on their joint expertise in plant biotechnology.

Appointing a professional business development manager is the first priority for the company which has a starting capital of Pounds 500,000, half from the six universities and half as a gift from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

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