Ever wondered what Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof Tony Trewavas, does when not intemperately smearing biotech critics, organic agriculture, etc?

Well if you go and look on the home page of the Royal Society's website today, right at the top you'll see:

A team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Anthony Trewavas FRS, has developed a genetically modified potato which glows when it needs watering. The research is intended to increase the efficiency of crop yields." []

This news appeared yesterday in the Daily Mail -- the same newspaper that earlier this year quoted Prof Trewavas lambasting the dangers of organic agriculture:

"Anthony Trewavas, professor of plant biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, said last night that organic farming actually increased the risk of food poisoning. He said: 'While conventional farmers use a variety of techniques to ferilisew their crops, organic farmers use animal manure almost exclusively. "The manure is heated on a compost heap to kill off harmful bacteria, but if it is not composted for long enough, there is an increased chance diseases like E-coli will spread to the crops.' Prof Trewavas said the need to make a profit could drive many organic farmers to cut corners in the treatment of manure." [15 May 2000, ORGANIC FOOD in E-COLI SAFETY ALERT]

This is, of course, ludicrous nonsense as conventional farmers not only use vastly more manure but are not required to compost it at all!!

As well as fearlessly exposing the dangers of organic ag -- to which end he is quite happy to fall back on the the likes of Dennis Avery  (Avery is repeatedly cited in Trewavas'MUCH FOOD, MANY PROBLEMS, Nature 402, 231 [1999] - 18/11/99) -- Prof Trewavas is equally keen to expose dangerous conflicts of interest.

According to Prof Trewavas the biotech critics are in the pay of the organic multinationals:

"Greenpeace and the other activists... receive big dollar and in-kind support from companies like Ben & Jerry’s and others who market their products as organic or natural.."

Indeed, Trewavas has gone so far as to imply that the biotech bashers are so lacking in scruple that they can be pretty much bought by any side -- if the money's right; "some well-placed pay-offs to Greenpeace” + a good PR campaign, he recently wrote, might well have avoided all agbiotech’s current problems. []

What Prof Trewavas' precise interests in promoting ag-biotech are, we couldn't say, but the report below is clearly evidence of some. And if the GM spud desribed below came out of Trewavas' Edinburgh University based Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, isn't that the same dept that supplied the chair of the Royal Society's Working Group that so resolutely rejected the concerns raised by Pusztai's research on GM potatoes? It will be remembered that they did so in such a high handed fashion -- without even a full account of the methodology -- that it prompted the editor of the Lancet to comment:

"Aaron Klug defends the Royal Society’s wish to damn Ewen and Pusztai’s work in the absence of both investigators. What he cannot defend is the reckless decision of the Royal Society to abandon the principle of due process in passing judgment on their work.  To review and then publish criticism of these researchers’ findings without publishing either their original data or their response was, at best, unfair and ill-judged.” []

Such a shame they can't splice a jellyfish gene into some biotech boosters to give off a warning glow for extreme self-interest and a cavalier disregard for the truth.

New Super-Spud Glows Green to Ask for Water
Monday December 18

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists have pioneered a genetically modified ``super potato'' that glows when it needs water, the head of the project said on Monday. Researchers at Edinburgh University injected potato plants with a fluorescence gene borrowed from the luminous jellyfish aequorea victoria, which causes their leaves to glow green when dehydrated.

``This is an agriculture of the future,'' Professor Anthony Trewavas told Reuters. ``We were trying to design a way of monitoring the resources within a field and decided it was the plant itself which has that information.''

The potatoes are not intended to be eaten but would act as ''sentinels,'' planted beside the commercial crop to alert a farmer that the rest of his field needed watering.

The glow is barely visible to the naked eye but can be detected using a small hand-held device. Field trials are due to start next year though Trewavas predicted it could take some 20 years before the plants are commonly used.

The technology could be extended to other fruit and vegetables, he added.