High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying


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Work at ABRO was far from the greatest area of expenditure for the council, sitting in tenth place out of twenty-two institutions that the ARC supported, but its budget had nevertheless raised some concerns. While the review shows some frustration on the ARC's side, it also encouraged ABRO to replace the lost farms with land to be purchased near Edinburgh, hardly an indication of planned shut-down. Indeed, as future events suggest, the ARC leadership read the visiting group's report as rather faint praise.

The group that arrived in October was headed by John Jinks, a senior geneticist at the University of Birmingham. It also included a farmer, two agricultural scientists, another senior geneticist and Anne McLaren, by then an established mammalian developmental biologist with a strong interest in molecular biology. At the same time, the final report singled out the reproductive physiology department as excellent, and commended the organization's new departmental structure.

The overall verdict was:. The Group is generally satisfied with the state of the Organisation and with the competence of the staff. Some areas of excellence have been identified, particularly reproductive physiology, and the Group notes with pleasure the enthusiasm and ability of younger members of staff in several departments. The group did not go so far as to overturn the council's decision about decommissioning farms in Wales and England, but it did recommend construction of a mouse facility, the purchase of new farms near Edinburgh and the hiring of additional statisticians.

These recommendations were supported by a visit from a senior ARC official to ABRO in February , whose correspondence with the council conveyed a less optimistic picture. As I discuss below, the ARC faced far greater cuts after , as well as pressures to increase support for food research and university grants. Together, these factors forced the closure, mergers and privatization of many institutes.

These future cuts were part of concerted government attempts to reform agricultural research and to move more to industrial players, although the eagerness of established scientists sitting on the research councils to protect universities and have more basic science was also responsible for diverting funds away from agriculture. The cuts at ABRO are understandably often merged with these changes in retrospective accounts. Indeed, rather than exemplifying a Thatcherite agenda, this funding trajectory shows strong continuities with science-funding strategies of the s, for instance the case of the Microbiological Research Establishment MRE at Porton Down, Wiltshire, a military research facility focused on defence from biological warfare.

Faced with closure during the mids cuts to defence expenditure, MRE was rescued with the help of John Ashworth, chief scientist of CPRS, who built his case by arguing that the establishment's excellent containment facility was perfectly suited to carry out work on recombinant DNA. John King, ABRO's director, actively campaigned against the cuts by reaching out to farmer unions, breeding societies, science periodicals, Scottish newspapers and a local MP.

To close ABRO or just reduce its activities would be a tragedy. It is terrifying to think that the ARC can even contemplate such action, without full consultation with the whole livestock industry. Quite frankly, it makes no sense whatsoever. The ARC was the key target of criticism, blamed for its short-sightedness and lack of transparency in decision making. Shelton stressed that no decisions had yet been made, and suggested that it was the council's choice to make savings and invest in new programmes, including genetic engineering:.

If this decision goes through, I again emphasise that no decision has yet been made, it is proposed to use the present institute field station at Dryden for what are described as 10 highly innovative scientists with a supporting staff of about 40 who would conduct the animal genetic experiments … The ARC made it clear in its press release that this is not a matter of cutting to reduce total expenditure but of cutting to increase flexibility and to allow new sums to be spent on new high priority work in its institutes on agricultural food, nutrition and bio-technology.

In response to the pressure from farming bodies, Parliamentarians and the press, the ARC introduced a consultation process and reached out to stakeholders for advice. The latter document reiterated a commitment to smaller-scale, university-based research on animal breeding, suggesting that a much leaner ABRO should instead focus on animal genetics from an applied angle, but with sufficient capacity to include basic science where appropriate.

It was, however, produced after the ARC meeting on 23 March, where the council discussed the strong opposition to the cuts and tried to alleviate them somewhat. Some posts would be freed through early retirement, but most would be lost through redundancy. While it was the council's goal to refocus on basic research, the Hereford Breeding Society weighed in with a defence of the long-term Hereford project.

Furthermore, as a customer under the Rothschild arrangement, MAFF representatives objected to curtailing the research that the ministry was now funding. He requested that the heads of departments come up with a plan for maintaining the organization at 85 per cent capacity. In his correspondence with Jinks and Riley, he emphasized that he wished the cuts could be avoided, but urged ring-fencing experimental work in physiology and the projects run by young scientists. He suggested that.

It underlies the general emphasis that has been given increasingly over recent years to the more applied experiments in ABRO in direct conflict for resources with ideas for more fundamentally oriented research. Wiener saw ABRO in a fundamental research role, providing advice and close links with industry, including analysis of commercial breeding programmes with quantitative genetics, but not as a site of applied research as such. Wiener's suggestions appealed to the ARC. Wiener had cited his age he had four years left until retirement and his reluctance to preside over redundancies of colleagues as the main reasons he had declined and suggested Roger Land instead.

In April , the ARC reviewed the proposals for a heavy cut. Beyond recruiting allies, however, the management at ABRO decided to align the organization with ARC's new priorities, specifically genetic engineering. The issue of genetic modification was discussed by the visiting group. In fact, the suggestion came from King, in his report to the group:. One of the major problems facing ABRO for the future is to decide at what stage to develop studies of genetic engineering.

Up till now all attempts to introduce new DNA into germ lines of mammals had been unsuccessful but a recent report New Scientist , 11 September , p. The general idea is developing so rapidly that an appropriate animal breeding involvement now seems timely. The most suitable means of achieving this objective would be by appointing appropriately qualified staff at ABRO and then seconding them to work by arrangement in a molecular biology unit. The ARC's enthusiasm for the technology was palpable, as it organized a meeting on animal genetic engineering in Cambridge in October , and a scientific conference in early With these animals, a real promise of genetic modification on the farm was being discussed more seriously than ever.

Yet while King expressed enthusiasm in his report, he had strong reservations about adopting genetic engineering at ABRO, as did some of his colleagues. Roger Land, who took over the directorship, was committed to introducing molecular genetics at the organization. He went on to implement the visiting group's recommendations and in hired Richard Lathe to start a genetic-engineering programme.

A University of Edinburgh graduate, Lathe had moved to France for his graduate studies to work with Pierre Chambon, a prominent French molecular biologist and a European leader in recombinant DNA research. The company had been set up with Chambon's patronage and considerable state funds, and had worked on producing the recombinant vaccine for rabies that was successfully deployed in the wild. After the dramatic images of supermice, several groups worldwide looked into extending the techniques to farm animals. While the powerhouse of molecular biology and recombinant DNA research, E.

This is where cattle and sheep came in. Covers of ABRO annual reports for left and right , showing a Southern blot image and a stylized farm animal with replicating DNA respectively. Scientists at leading sites such as the MRC's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge were reluctant to adopt a commercial biotech outlook in the early s, and persuading them to do so was a difficult process.

Significant resources were thrown into the implementation of genetic engineering, and Land's approach was at times heavy-handed. Ian Wilmut, a reproductive physiologist experienced in embryo transfer, was forced to abandon his project on prenatal mortality in sheep and move to the transgenic team.

While funding continued to dwindle and decline in the late s, genetic engineering remained a priority. As discussed above, the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton Down adopted a similar strategy when faced with the s defence cuts. At the same time, as Jane Maienschein has pointed out, cutting edges cut both ways, and as some research programmes are elevated, other suffer.

In response to the complex political to-and-fro, ABRO changed its core portfolio and focus, and embraced genetic engineering. In a context of agricultural overproduction, Thatcher's government saw little value in increasing productivity through science, and expected industry to pull more weight in funding research.

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At this time of uncertainty, the ARC identified plant biotechnology as an area that could supplement a shrinking budget. Yet while the changes to the organization's research agendas were largely imposed from London, its entrepreneurial story was specific to Scotland. In May , Thatcher's government had announced severe cuts to university budgets.

The block grant was used for teaching, but also to support research across the sciences and humanities. In the natural sciences, the money was often used to furnish laboratories and to support risky projects before they could receive research council or other funding. Thatcher's government decided to cut the UGC block grant heavily, generating much anxiety about the future of British science. In its recommendations, the ABRC urged Keith Joseph, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, to maintain and ideally expand research council support for university research.

The ARC, with its minor university funding, saw its interests sacrificed in this process. Ralph Riley was a member of the ABRC and, in an unprecedented move, dissented from the recommendations; his response was published as an appendix to the report. Riley's dissent had little effect; and were bad years for the ARC.

Five reports to the government, while paying lip service to the customer—contractor principle, strongly criticized the way in which agricultural research was being commissioned. Most placed some of the blame on the ARC. The late s and the s witnessed a major crisis of overproduction in European agriculture, driving prices down and increasing subsidies. Treasury correspondence regarding the future of the ARC showed little sympathy for supporting agricultural research when it saw extreme production efficiency as part of the problem.

This option garnered little enthusiasm from the Treasury's civil servants and generated opposition on legal grounds, since forcing the council to go private would contravene its Royal Charter. The government expected that the AFRC could find money through more active commercialization of research, and a state-backed Agricultural Genetics Company was set up for the purpose in It followed the example of the MRC company, Celltech, which commercialized monoclonal antibodies and other technologies developed by the council.

With Roger Land, they planned to patent the key techniques, and sell an exclusive licence to a private company. Since farm animals did not fall into the remit of the Agricultural Genetics Company, ABRO management decided to tap into local developments.

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London and Cambridge may have taken the lead in British biotechnology, but there was also much activity in Scotland. In particular, the work on the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine by the University of Edinburgh's Ken Murray and Noreen Murray, done in association with the European biotechnology firm Biogen, was paving the way.

In the early s, the Scottish Development Agency SDA , a new public body set up with North Sea oil money to foster Scottish business, established a biotechnology department. The SDA provided crucial seed funding and attracted venture capital from Prudential Investment Managers, an investment arm of the major insurance company, and from the Transatlantic Capital Bio-sciences Fund. Technically, it was not a spin-off, as the AFRC institutes were then banned from owning equity in private companies.


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Instead, PPL was an independent firm that would license ABRO's patents and, crucially, fund some of its research, while also hiring its own scientific staff. Initially, PPL set up offices and laboratories at the King's Buildings, in close proximity to the molecular biology team of the organization that it now co-funded. Besides receiving investment from PPL, ABRO benefited from letting the new company its facilities, and from charging the firm for instrumentation and overheads, and for use of farm space for the company's experimental sheep.

In an attempt to save money on administration and to centralize farm animal research, ABRO was united with the eminent Institute of Animal Physiology in Babraham near Cambridge. The Edinburgh Research Station was to move all its laboratory operations to Roslin as soon as possible, although the move could only be finalized in The transgenic programme in Edinburgh continued to rely on a research-institute model with its long-term grants that promised a continuity unobtainable in most university laboratories. Since the first cuts to ABRO, molecular biology research was funded through the special extra grant for new science that was part of the settlement with the ARC.

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This diversity of sponsors created a sustained and hybrid alliance between public and private funding for animal biotechnology, which Edinburgh geneticists used to their advantage as much as they could. This protein was alphaantiripsin, a drug for certain kinds of emphysema and cystic fibrosis. Tracy embodied a triumphant success of genetic engineering in Scotland that had seemed unlikely a decade earlier. When she died in , her body was stuffed and acquired by the Science Museum in London. Shortly afterwards, Dolly the cloned sheep was announced to the world. Dolly was not genetically modified, but rather a prototype for improving the woefully inefficient production of transgenic animals by cloning sheep from successfully modified cells.

ABRO was one of the earliest sites, globally, where these connections became fixed and productive, in response to sustained crisis. It was the promise of biotechnology to the British economy that both devastated the old ABRO and allowed the station to survive in a new guise. While there had been reasons to expect ABRO's eventual move into animal biotechnology, this shift did not result from a coherent policy, but from a set of complex and contingent negotiations that played out on the ground. Furthermore, in seeking new support in the form of PPL investment, ABRO managed to have the best of both worlds for its molecular genetics programme.

Private funding not only brought extra income, but also demonstrated the commercial relevance of ABRO research; at the same time, continuous AFRC and MAFF funding offered long-term security unavailable through shorter grant cycles, enabling the organization and its successors to take more risks. This hybrid funding arrangement did come at a cost, however, as multiple sponsors often advanced conflicting agendas, and the Roslin Institute had to spend much energy balancing those in the early s. In terms of the history of British science and its funding, the case of ABRO highlights both continuities and changes in the s.

Developed in line with Thatcherite ideals, privatization and the search for commercial funding were novel features that have left a deep imprint in the life sciences. At the same time, this story cannot be reduced to the diverse and often conflicting policies of Thatcher's governments. Distributed actors at various levels, from research councils to journalists, shaped the outcomes. Many driving factors originated in the s policy decisions, from the Rothschild reforms to the enthusiasm about biotechnology that was sustained in the s.

The strategy of embracing novel technology as a way out of a funding crisis pre-dated the s cuts. These cuts were themselves not always a clear policy, but sometimes stemmed from changing accounting mechanisms. Finally, local factors made a difference: ABRO's resistance, its newly entrepreneurial outlook, its ability to benefit from Scottish developments, and internal tensions present within the organization. On Thatcher and Thatcherism see e.

Thackray Arnold ed. For a study of British biotechnology told from an entrepreneurial perspective see also Marks Lara V. The multibreed project is discussed in St Clair S. See also Wilkie, op. Issues of Scottish autonomy also featured. The chairmen of the ARC tended to be aristocrats with an interest in farming: Lord Porchester later the Earl of Carnarvon , —, and then the Earl of Selbourne in — Please note that the BBSRC has kindly granted access to its archives on the condition of keeping any information regarding specific individuals anonymous.

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Wherever individuals are identified in this paper, it is from other sources, which include published ARC materials. The surprise of the visiting group members is recorded in ARC, op. Wiener interview, op. The Treasury civil servants reacted to the letter from Lord Porchester with confusion, and understood that he was reaching out to Howe in his capacity as an MP who had expressed interest in the ARC, not as the Chancellor.

A young researcher, Paul Simons had also been recruited to work with Wilmut and perform the hands-on embryonic manipulation. See also Ince, op. President to first attend Washington ceremonies. Britain's Major is snubbed. Local officials downplay results. At 20, the Thousand Oaks man could become youngest convict on Death Row.

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High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying
High Jinks, Low Hops :  A Memoir of Postwar Flying High Jinks, Low Hops : A Memoir of Postwar Flying

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