Thursday, December 16, 2004

You're fired!

Professor Ignacio Chapela held his final class as a member of UC-Berkeley's environmental science department last week. Chapela became famous when he uncovered genetic contamination of Mexico's corn crop. The contamination came from genetically modified corn that had been imported from the United States for food, but planted in Mexican corn fields. He showed that the Mexican corn crop, prized as a storehouse of natural genetic diversity, might quickly be overcome by the GMO kind wiping out centuries of traditional corn breeding.

When the findings were released, a smear campaign began. It was created by fake scientists who were eventually traced to a Washington lobbying group for biotech firms. Subsequent findings have reaffirmed Chapela's research. But Chapela had also attacked the corporate takeover of science on his own Berkeley campus. That netted him a denial of tenure from the very top even though nearly all his colleagues had enthusiastically supported him at every level.

The university's chancellor may yet reverse the decision. But for now, Chapela waits to find out whether he will be allowed to teach at Berkeley again.

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