Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed

abc def ghi jkl mno pqrs tuv wxyz index
Survey home
First thoughts
Final thoughts
Survey responses
RSS feed
Michael Baum
Gustav Born
K Eric Drexler
Marcus du Sautoy
Harold Kroto
Paul Lauterbur
Leon Lederman
Bernard Lovell
Sophie Petit-Zeman
Ingo Potrykus
Jack Pridham
Simon Singh
Jack Steinberger
David James
visiting professor of plant biotechnology at the University of Greenwich, emeritus fellow of Horticulture Research International, and pioneer of transgenic fruit breeding

Like many schoolchildren in the 1950s and 1960s, I was forced to choose between arts and sciences at A-level at the age of 16, having taken lots of O-levels the previous year. I passed more than 12 O-levels, all with reasonable grades, and to be honest wasn’t at all bothered about arts versus science since I was interested in all of these subjects.

So sad to say, I wasn’t enthused at this stage by a leading scientific icon. It wasn’t the insights of Charles Darwin insight or the taxonomic skills of Carolus Linnaeus that led me down the path to the biosciences. I suppose that if there was one subject I would have chosen had I had to, it would have been genetics. But you couldn’t study genetics at A-level then, so I chose botany and zoology. Chemistry was thrown in as well, since DNA had been discovered a few years earlier.

After A-levels, it was all one-way – some might say downhill. At university then, it was still not possible to read for a degree in genetics. But by studying botany at Sheffield, I got pretty close to it. In the honours school, I was permitted to do my summer undergraduate dissertation at the end of the second year in the genetics department, then under the leadership of Professor Roper, who had recently gained fame and recognition for his work on the parasexual cycle of fungi.

My project on gene mapping in yeast got me enthused, and fortunately I was able to answer 12 of the 15 questions in my finals on genetics, even though it was a botany degree that was awarded. To cut a very long story short, my later PhD was in fact in biochemistry, but in the last 10 years of my career I was able to return almost full time to genetics. I led a research team at a government research station on genetic modification of fruit crops, in which gene expression studies were key to the programme.

So I started with genetics and ended with genetics, and yet I still do not regard myself as a geneticist, and my visiting professorship at the University of Greenwich is in plant biotechnology.