Biotech industry funds bumper crop of UC Davis research (8/6/2004)

another good article from the daily paper of California's capital city

Biotech industry funds bumper crop of UC Davis research
By Tom Knudson and Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writers
Sacramento Bee, Tuesday, June 8, 2004

SEEDS OF DOUBT: Third of five parts

[image: Greenhouses glow in the evening at UC Davis, where crops and genes have long been a passion. Founded as a land-grant agricultural college, the school is embracing biotechnology.]

Last August, a promising new report about genetically modified corn flickered across a Web site sponsored by the corn's corporate creator, the biotechnology giant Monsanto Co.

Citing new research by the University of California, Davis, the report said corn altered to produce its own pesticide was a biotechnology bonanza - one that could make farmers across the country wealthier and reduce the use of toxic insecticides.

But there was one fact the "Biotech Knowledge Center" Web site failed to mention: Monsanto paid for the UC Davis research.

Following a pattern set by farm chemical companies in the 1960s, the biotechnology industry is mining public agricultural colleges such as UC Davis for scientific research, confidential business advice and academic support for its technology.

You name it, and biotechnology companies help pay for it at UC Davis: laboratory studies, scholarships, post.doctoral students' salaries, professors' travel expenses, even the campus utility bill. Some professors earn extra money, up to $2,000 a month, consulting for such companies on the side.

The school's attraction to biotechnology is driven by its desire to transform itself from a traditional agricultural college into a bustling center for the exploration - and manipulation - of plant genes. That desire is more than talk. New buildings and research centers are sprouting: the Seed Biotechnology Center, the Genome Center and a planned new life science research park along Interstate 80. A bumper crop of biotechnology research is under way.

Biotechnology industry dollars are helping spark the transformation.

Reaching out to industry "is good for regional economic development. It's good for the state. It's good for our students," said Barry Klein, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis.

The university's top official - Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef - supports the concept but said caution must be applied. "We have to be very vigilant and very wary," he said. "Universities are flirting with the gray zone with regard to what kind of research there is to be done - and whether or not our noses are being turned by the money."

A fundamental force drawing colleges and companies together is declining state and federal revenue for agricultural research. "Most faculty members don't necessarily want to please large companies," Vanderhoef said. "What they do want is their research funded."

But some wonder whether UC Davis could be losing sight of its mission to serve the broad needs of agriculture and society as it works with industry to serve up a smorgasbord of biotech foods - from slow-ripening tomatoes to genetically engineered cheese.

"The public is having a hard time figuring out where the corporate door ends and where the university door begins," said Bill Liebhardt, former director of the UC system's sustainable farming program, which promotes nonindustrial farming methods.

Small farmers - the very people agricultural colleges like UC Davis were established to help - feel neglected. "The university is being led by industry," said Judith Redmond, co-owner of Full Belly Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Yolo County.

The $95 million Genome Center, due to open later this year at UC Davis, is just one of many additions that are transforming the agricultural college into a center at the cutting edge of biology.

Campus goes from farm to future

If the wind is right, you can catch a whiff of the UC Davis dairy herd from the gates of the gleaming $95 million Genome Center rising on the western edge of campus.

The six-story tower represents the university's future; the cows - already displaced as the campus mascot by the sleeker mustang - represent its past as the university farm.

Genomic studies are emerging as one of the campus's most prominent intellectual features. UC Davis officials are determined to be at the world's leading edge as they fill the new Genome Center with more than a dozen new professors and their lab teams.

"This cannot afford to fail," said Richard Michelmore, the veteran genetics professor who will direct the center. Denmark-based Novozymes, the world's largest manufacturer of industrial enzymes, recently donated $500,000 to endow his position.

Already, Davis boasts more than 70 genomics researchers. The center is an attempt to further explore what some call the "new biology" - studies such as proteomics (studying proteins), bioinformatics (managing biological data) and metabolomics (tracking the biochemical effects of active genes).

The goal is to take an integrated approach to big questions, such as how microorganisms infect plants and animals. Work at the center will be so fundamental that much of it isn't expected to have immediate commercial appeal.

As finishing touches are put on the building for this summer's opening, not everyone applauds its purpose. At the agricultural college, a core of scientists fear the investment signals a further decline in plant researchers who actually get their hands dirty.

"The study of biology has really become unbalanced," said Arnold Bloom, a vegetable crops professor. "DNA is only part of the story."

Digging for details

UC Davis' courtship with companies attracts little outside attention. Documents detailing the relationship are scattered widely across campus and sometimes missing entirely. Track down the files, talk to those involved and you'll find:

*A "who's who" of international biotechnology companies fund work at UC Davis. They include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Bayer. Some grants pay for specific research, but many arrive with no official strings attached. Whatever the form, the companies get something in return - access to the university's talent pool and, often, first crack at its scientific breakthroughs.

*A special UC program - Discovery Grants - distributes state money to California biotechnology firms, hoping to jump-start research. Some of that taxpayer money also has been awarded to the world's largest biotechnology corporations. On occasion, the taxpayer-funded program has been undermined when companies start research, then don't pay their bills.

*More than 20 UC Davis professors have earned outside income providing advice to biotechnology companies, a practice known as consulting. In one instance, two UC Davis professors purchased shares of stock in a biotech startup company that funded their research. Often, those financial ties are not disclosed in academic articles and public forums.

Industry funding is changing the culture of the public university. Professors who once shared discoveries freely now guard them like industry trade secrets - which they sometimes are. "You can't talk as openly," said James Murray, a UC Davis animal science professor.

UC Davis is one of more than 70 land-grant agricultural colleges first established by Congress in the 1860s to serve the public and small farmers. With names such as Iowa State, Purdue, Cornell, Texas A&M and Virginia Polytechnic, they form the educational foundation of the world's richest and most productive farm system.

Three decades ago, land-grant colleges came under sharp criticism from farm workers and environmentalists for their close ties to agribusiness. Among projects drawing fire was a mechanical tomato harvester developed at UC Davis that put farm workers out of a job.

"Although the land-grant college complex was created to be the people's university ... the system has, in fact, become the sidekick and frequent servant of agriculture's industrialized elite," wrote Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner, in "Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times," a 1972 book about the controversy.

Today, some see history repeating itself as land-grant colleges embrace biotechnology. "We are following the technology and allowing it to set our direction," said Chuck Hassebrook, a member of the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents.</p>

<p>Some universities are choosing alternate paths. Despite budget cuts, Iowa State University - a major target of criticism in the 1970s - recently launched a special program to examine biotechnology's social, economic and environmental impacts. In New York, Cornell University has a reputation for examining all sides of the biotechnology boom.

But such scrutiny has not taken root at UC Davis.

"On this campus you have a very strong lobby for biotechnology," said Paul Gepts, former chairman of the agronomy department. "The university should be a meeting place of ideas. Let's examine (biotechnology) and let the chips fall where they may."

Scavenger hunt

For professors, finding money for research is more than a challenge. It is a scavenger hunt. They look everywhere - foundations, government, farm groups, nonprofit organizations. Some even dip into their own bank accounts to keep graduate students working.

In July 2002, UC Davis farm economics professor Julian Alston found a patron in the private sector: Monsanto, one of the world's five largest crop biotechnology firms.

The official announcement came in the form of a letter. "Dear Dr. Alston," it read. "Please find enclosed a check for $40,000 that represents an unrestricted gift in support of your research program."

As the company had prearranged with Alston, the money would fund a survey of farmers' attitudes about a new variety of biotech corn Monsanto was bringing to market. Alston would hire a polling firm, analyze the results and prepare a report. The polling firm selected - Doane Marketing Research Inc. - is based three miles from Monsanto's St. Louis headquarters.

Bryan Hurley, a Monsanto spokesman, said the company merely wanted to learn more about what farmers think about its new biotech product. Now, he said, "there's solid, objective research available."

When Alston's report came out a year later in a biotech online journal, its findings were favorable to Monsanto. The new variety - Yieldguard Rootworm - could put an additional $231million in farmers' pockets, Alston reported, and could save them $58million through lower pesticide costs.

Critics of biotechnology's influence are not surprised by such company-friendly findings.

"When industry funds studies, they tend to echo what industry wants to hear," said Merrill Goozner at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit industry watchdog group.

Alston said the Monsanto money did not influence his analysis. "I am going to report my findings whatever they are, regardless of the source of funds," he said.

Still, he acknowledged it might look funny from the outside. "We'd be a lot better off if we could just find funding ... that doesn't imply any taint," Alston said.

In his report in the online journal AgBioForum, Alston and three co-authors thanked Monsanto for data and advice - but didn't mention the company funding. They did acknowledge financial support from a National Science Foundation program, which, it turns out, also is partly funded by Monsanto.

Like Alston, other professors are torn about company coziness.

"On the one hand, I feel biotech companies - how can I say this? - are influencing the way we do research," said Eduardo Blumwald, a UC Davis cell biologist who tapped biotechnology industry money for field experiments after being turned down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "But on the other hand, they are the only ones that can help us in promoting the research."

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Shhhh ... It's a company secret

"We found the secret of life," Francis Crick exclaimed to patrons of the Eagle Pub in 1953, announcing to all who would listen that he had discovered the structure of DNA.

That culture of openness, long a hallmark of higher education, appears to be a victim of the biotech age. Between increasing competition for grant money, the lure of license fees and company sponsorships, some of that collegiality has disappeared.

Indeed, a recent biomedical research review showed that companies sometimes even deny professors access to the results of their own experiments.

"Science in general now is getting more guarded," said Elizabeth Maga, an assistant research biologist at UC Davis who has worked on company-funded projects.

One of Maga's colleagues, animal-science professor James Murray, is preparing a research grant agreement with a company. But don't ask him for details. "I can't talk to you about that," Murray said.

A few years ago, a job candidate for the agricultural college gave a formal presentation about his research. Prof.Professor John Labavitch, a UCD horticulture specialist, recalled that the candidate piqued everyone's interest when he said he'd worked on some important advances in plant science. When pressed for details, however, the candidate begged off, pleading "company secrets."

"We would want to have somebody on our faculty who (could) save the world," Labavitch said, "but he said, 'I can't tell you what it is.'"

For the record, Labavitch said the clammed-up candidate didn't get the job.

Discoveries kept secret

Companies aren't looking just for information when they fund UC Davis work. Often, they're hungry for valuable discoveries, too - and seek first rights to them in research agreements.

Gepts recalled one such proposal he turned down as agronomy department chairman. "A professor in the department wanted to go into a (research) agreement with Monsanto," Gepts said. "If he found something, he had to let them know. They held the rights to pursue it. In effect, he would have worked for them. I felt that was not appropriate."

The agreements also typically call for industry-funded discoveries to be kept secret - at least until companies can examine them for their profit potential. Traditionally, scientists have published their findings and worried about business details later, if at all.

"When one of my experiments worked, I literally ran down the hall to tell other people," said Margaret Mellon, who received her doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Virginia in the 1970s.

"Nobody does that anymore," said Mellon, now director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Now people have their lab notebooks locked up in drawers."

Company funding for agricultural research is not new, of course. Syngenta, for instance, has a long-term relationship with most of the nation's major agricultural colleges. "It's been very beneficial for us, and hopefully for the universities as well, to have an exchange of information," said Mike Moss, director of North American research for the Swiss-based biotech and chemical company.

Nor do companies stop at funding research. Commonly, they tap professors as consultants. Sometimes they pay for their travel, too.

In January, Monsanto flew a few dozen university researchers from around the country to Phoenix for a summit on a major new biotech product expected in 2005: Roundup-resistant alfalfa.

Dan Putnam, a UC Davis alfalfa authority, is not apologetic about accepting the free ride to Arizona. He said it allowed him to share with the company his concerns that excessive spraying of Roundup could backfire - making weeds more resistant to the chemical.

"They have an opportunity to give us their point of view, but that doesn't mean that we have to buy it," Putnam said.

Most industry contributions to UC Davis researchers are modest, ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. "It's very unlikely that a scientist is going to sell his soul for these kinds of dollars," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

But industry money does come in larger sums. Overall, corporate gifts for all kinds of agriculture research at UC Davis can reach $10 million annually. In good years, that includes nearly $2 million from companies dealing in seeds and biotechnology.

In addition, company research grants to the ag college - those explicitly tied to specific projects - have waxed and waned with the economy over the last decade, amounting to roughly 4 percent of the $57million the college received in outside grants in 2003-04. Most of the money - about three-quarters - comes from the state and federal governments.

Peter Rosset, former director of the nonprofit Oakland group, Food First, said companies don't have to give a bundle of money to get universities to focus on their priorities. "Industry comes in, (and) provides money that is desperately needed, -to turn taxpayer-funded infrastructure to their needs," said Rosset, now a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. "They can skim the cream off."

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Gene giants have wide influence

If you're looking for the straight scoop on biotech, chances are you're in for a long search.

Not only are many major universities tightly tied to the industry, so are several of the most of the widely quoted ag think tanks and public information groups. Yet their names might lead you to believe they are impartial operations.

Take the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, famous for glowing forecasts about the potential for biotechnology to reduce pesticide use. It's funded partly by large biotech companies.

How about the Council for Biotechnology Information? Its members are a similar cast of corporations.

Ditto for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which even federal agencies cite as a principal source for statistics on the worldwide spread of biotech crops. In California, the industry's face is the Western Plant Health Association, which represents farm chemical companies, some of which deal in biotech crops, too.

The reach of the gene giants can be even more subtle. For instance, Monsanto sponsors a program with the National Association of Wheat Growers to provide "leadership training for a whole new group of wheat leaders." Its focus: biotechnology and the environment.

Mike Lee

A maze of policies

Professors who work with industry navigate a labyrinth of UC policies aimed at keeping industries from exerting too much influence over research. Those policies - overseen by a special conflict-of-interest committee at UC Davis - touch upon everything from requiring professors to report financial interest in companies funding their research to deciding how much time they may spend consulting on the side.

Determinations often are a judgment call.

For instance, when Bo Lonnerdal, a UC Davis nutrition professor, reported receiving $24,000 in outside income from consulting with a Sacramento biotechnology company in 2000, he filled out a conflict committee form that asked:

"How are you keeping your obligations to the (company) separate and distinct from your obligations to the university, particularly student mentorship?"

Lonnerdal replied, "My obligations to the (company) sponsor I fulfill late evenings and weekends. They do not involve students at all."

The committee found no problem with that arrangement.

"The policies - if they are adhered to - are good policies," said Chancellor Vanderhoef. "The problem is it's very easy to slip across the line."

Those policies were tested in 2002 by a $778,000 project that mingled state and industry dollars and involved an unusual biotechnology product - genetically modified goats.

Working with a small Bay Area biotechnology company, Pangene Inc., UC Davis researchers were attempting to jigger goat genes so the animals would produce higher-protein milk - important for cheese production. They also aimed to prove a new technique for inserting genetic material into a targeted spot in the animals' DNA, rather than relying on hit-and-miss methods.

"That was the holy grail," said Gary Anderson, chairman of the animal science department at Davis, who helped create the transgenic goats.

Two years later, two of the goats - including the placid Peppercorn - live on at Davis' butter-yellow goat research barn, and researchers hope one day they can afford to finish what Pangene money started.

[image: Biologist Elizabeth Maga tends a goat at UC Davis. Her goat genetics study was put on hold in 2002 when Pangene Inc. failed to pay for the research as promised.]

The process is expensive - a transgenic goat costs about $35,000 to create - but a UC Davis grant proposal said results would "have a great impact on ... California, the United States and the world."

Pangene had made a down payment on the research of $70,000 and also had offered perks to professors Gary Anderson and James Murray, who oversaw the project: 20,000 shares of company stock each. The professors paid next to nothing - 1cent a share, or $200 each. The privately held company valued its stock at $3 a share - which would have made the professors' investments worth $60,000 each.

The professors reported their holdings to the campus conflict-of-interest committee, which allowed them to keep their shares.

Anderson and Murray both say their equity was so small that they weren't concerned about the ties. "I have never thought of it in terms of financial interest," Murray said. "They were like an honorarium for being on (Pangene's) advisory board."

But someone did wonder about the relationship. Atop one conflict-of- interest committee document, a hand-written query on a yellow sticky note asked: "Why did the committee conclude there was no conflict?"

The source of that dissent remains a mystery. When contacted by The Bee, none of the six people on the committee at the time recalled penning the note; most said UC Davis is conservative about managing possible conflicts of interest and that the professors' holdings weren't large enough to warrant action.

University researchers usually are barred from having a "significant" financial interest in the outcome of their research. But there is some leeway, according to Mikal Saltveit, the committee chairman.

"We have to balance preventing any appearance of conflict of interest with the ability of people to actually work with industry and the funding agencies," Saltveit said.

At Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics, associate director Mildred K. Cho finds such arrangements worrisome. "There is more incentive for bias to creep in when there is a potential relationship between results and the financial gain of the researcher," she said.

"It's a question everyone is struggling with: Where to draw the line?"

Ultimately, Anderson and Murray came up empty, in part because Pangene ran out of money, reneging on more than $450,000 it had promised to pay UC.

Deadline after deadline had passed for nearly a year while $165,000 in public money flowed into the project.

Then, finally, someone in the office of the UC Davis vice chancellor for research flagged the troubled account, prompting officials to take a closer look.

"Any progress (on) Pangene's enormous default?" wrote Jane Lee Chien, a UC grants officer in Berkeley in an e-mail to a colleague at UC Davis. She heard back the next day. "We have major problems with this project," wrote Jess Phelan, a UC Davis grants officer. "There appear to be lots of strange things happening."

On March 26, 2002, the Discovery Grants office canceled the Pangene project. Efforts to reach former officials at Pangene for comment were not successful.

UC Davis research biologist Elizabeth Maga, a key player in the Pangene project, found her work put on indefinite hold. Now she tends the two goats, their numbers insufficient to do her research.

"I think we need to be a little more vigilant about what money the companies have and what they say they have," she said.

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What's in a name? A war of words

What's in a name? Quite a bit, when it comes to public acceptance of biotechnology.

The industry lost the first round of the culture war over biotech foods when its products entered mainstream parlance as "genetically modified organisms" - technical gobbledygook few understood - with the awkward acronym GMOs.

To make matters worse, anti-biotech activists attached the ominous tag of "Frankenfoods," conjuring up a picture of out-of-control science. Industry leaders worry that other monikers, such as biotech, transgenic, genetically engineered and GE, mostly breed confusion for the general public.

"The activists did a wonderful job of painting us into a corner," said Michael J. Phillips, vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.

The solution?

"We need to use words that consumers understand," Phillips told a roomful of biotech leaders in Sacramento. He encouraged the use of "enhanced" and "improved" to replace "engineered" and "modified."

Phillips hopes to avoid repeating history as the industry looks forward to the first crops engineered to produce drug compounds. Focus groups helped select the industry's preferred term - "plant-made pharmaceuticals" - in an attempt to

"We defined the language," Phillips said. "The term...is not an accident."

- Mike Lee

Prompt payment

University officials acknowledge mistakes in letting companies such as Pangene and others drag out their matching payments. They said defaults prompted changes.

Susanne Huttner, executive director of the grants program in Berkeley, said companies do typically pay on time. In all, there have been 23 defaults out of 624 grants since the program started in 1996, a rate of 3.7 percent.

A new grant policy adopted late last year gives companies just 30 days to make payments - a period during which research spending is frozen. Failure to pay means the grant will be terminated. "We are going to move very quickly now," Huttner said.

Overall, the Discovery Grants office distributes about $17 million a year of state and UC money to help California biotechnology companies pay for UC research.

But on occasion, it also has subsidized the research bills of the industry's biggest firms - Monsanto, Novartis, Syngenta and Dow Chemical Co., all based out of state. It teamed with Monsanto to work on fruit and corn pollination; with Dow Chemical Co.for research on western corn rootworms.

Huttner said there's a shortage of California plant biotechnology companies but all funding - for companies large or small - must be "focused on a problem of immediate and critical importance to California agriculture."

After the Pangene project collapsed, Maga, Anderson, Murray and several of the project's scientists published an article about their work in the journal Transgenic Research. The article contained no mention of Murray and Anderson's stake in Pangene. When asked by The Bee, however, Murray said he supports a movement within academia to routinely disclose financial ties in journal articles.

"Biotechnology ... is more tied in with companies and industry than basic research used to be," he said. "To disclose ... is open and transparent."

Industry funding for UC Davis' new Seed Biotechnology Center is openly acknowledged by the facility's director, Kent Bradford. Biotech and seed companies collectively contributed more than $1 million.

"Does that influence what I do? Sure," said Bradford. "To me, I don't think that's a problem. What I am trying to do with that funding is things that are in fact of use to that industry."

"If a sustainable ag group came to us and said 'Geez, here's a great project that's seed-related that would help the sustainability of ag,' and they've got money, I'd be happy to direct our resources that way."

Last December, Bradford submitted court papers on behalf of a biotech industry group seeking to defeat a Mendocino County ballot measure banning genetically engineered crops, which ultimately passed. He also has consulted for Monsanto.

"I feel that as a university professor you also have a responsibility sometimes to speak up," Bradford said. "How do I just sit on the sidelines?"

Other UC Davis ag biotech researchers feel the same way, and most of the time when they go public they do so to support genetically engineered crops.

Martina Newell-McGloughlin, who runs the UC system's biotechnology program from her UC Davis office, regularly appears at forums to promote biotech as hope for a hungry world - an industry mantra that has yet to live up to the claim.

"The real issue in this world is not biotechnology," Newell-McGloughlin told a packed house during a biotech debate at downtown Sacramento's Crest Theatre last summer. "The real issue is starvation."

'Home of biotech'

Crops and genes have long been a UC Davis passion. Gurdev Khush, known worldwide for his work to improve rice yields in Third World countries, is a 1960 graduate. Dennis Gonsalves, developer of the virus-resistant papaya - a biotech crop that rescued one of Hawaii's top farm exports - is another alum. So, too, is Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and author of "The Doubly Green Revolution - Food for All in the 21st Century."

Since 1999, when gene studies officially got top priority at the UC Davis agricultural college, 10 genetics experts have been hired to work on everything from mosquitoes to weeds. More such "gene jockeys" are on the way to fill the monolithic Genome Center due to open later this year on a campus already well known as a life-science leader.

"We call it the home of biotech," said a beaming Judith Kjelstrom, who runs the UC Davis biotech studies program. The goals of Kjelstrom's program include promoting biotechnology, creating partnerships with industry and educating the public.

Although universities crave industry connections, those liaisons may undermine something even harder to come by: the public's trust.

It's an issue that's starting to get more attention. At Portland State University, environmental economist David Ervin is part of a nationwide project to analyze industry sponsorships. One of his key questions is whether such ties hinder critical reviews of biotech crops, including potential environmental and health safety problems.

"There seems to be very little research in academia that dispassionately assesses all sides," Ervin said. "It seems to be mostly, 'How do we use industry-university relationships to promote the development of this technology?'"

Ask almost anyone at UC Davis if the university is biased in favor of biotech crops, and they'll point to one man as the counterweight: Paul Gepts.

Norman Ellstrand, a UC Riverside professor who shuns industry donations for his research program on the risks of biotechnology, listens to UC Davis agronomy professor Paul Gepts in a class discussion on biotech crop policies.

Gepts is a compact, soft-spoken professor who got into biotechnology through a side door. He spills a can of beans on his desk - various hues, shapes and sizes that he has collected from around the world - as he explains.

His primary interest was tracking the flow of genes between domesticated and wild beans. His research led him to Mexico, where he ran into questions about biotech genes infiltrating native Mexican corn, and back to Davis, where he's the de facto representative for critical assessment of biotech crops, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

Said Gepts: "On this campus... there is actually very little research going on - no organized effort - about the environmental effects of GMOs."

Van Alfen, the college dean, attributes the lack of such work to the paucity of federal money for it. "That really is what decides what research is being done," he said.

The USDA offers universities a relative pittance for work on biotech risk assessment - and since 2000, UCDavis hasn't had a single project funded through the agency's main grant program.

Instead, the UC's best-known biotech risk research program is at Riverside - not Davis. UC Riverside is where professor Norman Ellstrand runs a small Biotech Impacts Center out of his office. He wryly calls it "budget-free."

To do almost anything, he must solicit donations or grants - and from a much smaller pool of potential funders than peers who accept corporate contributions.

Ellstrand has won more USDA risk money in the past decade than all of UC Davis, including a grant last fall for a two-day conference weighing risks and benefits of biotechnology. For that conference, he scoffed at accepting company money to pay the bills.

"Somebody said, 'Why don't you have a Monsanto reception?'" Ellstrand recalled. "I said 'No - then we might as well hang it up and go home.'"

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