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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK


'Bioangst' behind brain drain

Angst over GM foods is driving top scientists across the Atlantic

One of the UK's top scientists has blamed public and political hysteria over GM foods for his decision to decamp to Canada.

Professor Roger Gosden, 51, of Leeds University, plans to leave the UK in October to take up a post at McGill University's Royal Victoria Hospital in Quebec, Canada.

He pioneered a technique to graft ovaries into sterile women, used to treat Margaret Lloyd-Hart in the US earlier this year.

Prof Gosden told the Daily Telegraph that one of reasons for his departure was the public and political backlash against biotechnology and genetic science.

[ image: Prof Roger Gosden is leaving for Canada]
Prof Roger Gosden is leaving for Canada
"With all the fuss over GM food and so on, it is difficult to be a scientist in Britain.

"One does not feel proud of being a scientist any longer. And I fear it is very discouraging for our young people."

Dr John Mulvey, founder of the Save British Science lobby group, says although there were no recent figures on the number of scientists lost to industry or to posts abroad, there was strong anecdotal evidence.

Brain drain

Universities find it increasingly difficult to recruit top scientists, and graduates were opting for more lucrative positions offered in the US or Europe.

It does not help that people in the UK were more sensitive about developments in science than in other countries.

"There is no doubt it is a serious issue, this backlash. It certainly makes it more difficult for people working in this area.

"The BSE crisis developed a sort of level of distrust, of anti-science, and unease about the levels of expenditure on science.

[ image: Prof Gosden blames public and political unease over genetic engineering for the brain drain]
Prof Gosden blames public and political unease over genetic engineering for the brain drain
"It is our bad luck that the population here has been sensitised to these dangers over several years, and that's why [GM foods] were seized upon."

It was unfortunate that biotechnology and GM foods had not been argued rationally in the media, he said.

"It makes it difficult to have a balanced response to it."

Prof Gosden began his research career in 1970 in Cambridge under Professor Robert Edwards, who pioneered test tube baby technology with Patrick Steptoe.

Robert Edwards on Prof Gosden's decision to leave the UK
Professor Edwards says his former colleague would most likely have been driven out by the lack of good research facilities in the UK, rather than the lure by a big salary package.

"That has been offered to him in Montreal, so off he goes. There's another Briton gone over there."

By moving to Canada, Prof Gosden hopes to work with other leaders in the field to improve the frozen storage and transplantation of ovarian tissue for infertility treatments.

More money, more scientists

In June, Save British Science and university vice-chancellors urged the Government to give lecturers and researchers a substantial pay boost to prevent an accelerating scientific brain drain.

They had been mobilised by an independent report by Sir Michael Bett, a senior civil servant, which called for a £450m boost to academic earnings.

And Britain's largest medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, gave its senior scientists a record 30% salary increase.

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