Testimonials for Pioneer Member Chris Lamb

Robin Cameron – Chris was my post-doc supervisor when he was at the Salk Institute. He gave me lots of freedom in my studies of systemic acquired resistance. He was also very encouraging and supportive of new ideas from his people. I try to do the same with the students in my lab.

Richard Dixon – I will never forget the first time I met Chris. He had just finished his PhD at the University of Cambridge and joined the Botany School at the University of Oxford as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Vernon Butt’s Laboratory. I was in the same laboratory, in the final year of my PhD but working under a different supervisor. It was 1975. I hadn’t met anyone like Chris before. I could tell after only a few minutes that this was someone who was going to do something important in his life. Chris combined these “serious” traits (and he could be very serious) with a warm personality allied with a dry sense of humor, and we quickly became close friends and collaborators. Our first joint paper was published in FEBS Letters in 1978, and was the start of a 26 year collaboration that resulted in 114 publications, many of which appeared in top international journals. Working together gave me a really close-up appreciation of Chris’ powers as a visionary thinker.

Throughout his career, Chris showed the highest degree of scientific integrity, and was a tireless campaigner for support for plant science research. He was remarkably generous to those who worked in his lab as students, postdoctoral fellow or visiting scientists. It is notable that many of these people were allowed to take the projects they had initiated under Chris’ supervision to their new jobs, and one of Chris’ major legacies is the number of careers he nurtured which are now flourishing at major universities and research institutes throughout the world. Of course, it is an understatement to say that he was also an incredible “talent spotter” as regards the faculty hires he made.

Chris’ other legacy is the wonderful memories that so many people have of the sheer fun of doing science with someone who was at once a great leader, a visionary, a caring father figure, a lover of all the good things in life, and the possessor of a most wonderful sense of humor.

Beat Keller – Chris Lamb was my postdoctoral advisor when he was at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. He introduced me into plant molecular biology during 1986-1989 and the stay in his lab has shaped my next professional steps and in fact my whole career.

Michael Lawton – Chris Lamb had a huge impact on the lives of everyone fortunate enough to know him. I count myself lucky to have known him and have had the opportunity to work with him on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to being an exceptional scientist and a wonderful mentor, he had a real talent for nurturing careers and for building programs and institutions, which he achieved repeatedly in his career. For these reasons, Chris would be very happy the be named as a Pioneer of ASPB and to know that this program will contribute to the mission and applications of the ASPB and its important programs. Although we all miss him, it is heartening to know that the work that he loved so much goes on.

Gary John Loake – Many plant scientists will be aware of Chris Lamb’s myriad contributions to this field, but perhaps fewer will be aware of just how kind, thoughtful and generous a person Chris could be. When I first arrived in La Jolla, Chris told me not to rush into renting an apartment and invited me to stay with him while his family was in England for the summer. We spent many convivial summer evenings in the garden, beer in-hand, discussing the latest scientific breakthroughs, interlaced with invaluable information on how I, a young English postdoc, might develop my career. Chris further extended his hospitality to me by suggesting that I stay on in his house while he joined his family in England. Thanks to his generosity, my introduction into Southern Californian life and Salk science was both a highly positive and unforgettable experience.

Some years later, following my return to England and unbeknown to me, Chris had become aware through the Salk network that I was increasingly frustrated and truthfully, a little dejected, while waiting for a faculty position to open up. Without notice, Chris suddenly appeared in York and took me out for a “pep talk”, providing plenty of advice, support and encouragement to keep my research on track. When success was finally achieved and I was offered a faculty position at Edinburgh, Chris was immediately on the phone to Irene Hames, who was helping run the Plant Journal out of York at that time, to organise a surprise champagne party for me.

Fast forward a few more years and Chris was interviewing for the Regius Chair in Plant Science at Edinburgh and I was awaiting the outcome of my first promotion. Chris, breezed into my office to announce he had been offered and had accepted the Regius Chair position and was now my colleague at Edinburgh and furthermore, I could relax, my promotion had been approved. Cue more champagne for us both in the institute library!

Yes, we are all aware of Chris Lamb, the stellar scientist and talented scientific manager, but from my perspective – and that of many other plant scientists – it was Chris’s personal attributes, in addition to his scientific guidance, that were instrumental in nurturing and shaping scientific careers

Anne Osbourn – Chris Lamb was a visionary leader and an outstanding mentor. I had the privilege of working with him during his time at the John Innes Centre. He had a great sense of humour, even in times of adversity. Although he passed away over ten years ago, I find that I often think of him when faced with seeming insurmountable problems and challenges, and I wonder – ‘What would Chris say? What would he do?’ And I get a lot of comfort from thinking about the funny side of things that he may have seen, even in the hardest of times.

John Ryals – I came in to Plant Biology and Plant Pathology as a total newbie. Never took a course and had no credibility at all. Chris was one of the first and the few to accept what I was doing early on. He helped me in the early days and I will forever be grateful. Rest in Peace, Chris Lamb.

Ken Shirasu – Chris gave me an opportunity to do science in an excellent environment. Without having met him early in my career, I would not been here. We had a lot of fun in San Diego and Norwich especially when eating sushi together. Thank you, Chris, for your time with me.

Detlef Weigel – My time at the Salk Institute was incredibly important for my science, including my approach to mentoring and paying it forward. Although Chris, a pioneer of molecular plant-pathogen studies, was not raised as a geneticist, he recognized the power of genetics and recruited first Joanne Chory and then me to the Salk’s Plant Biology Laboratory. Little did Chris know that after we had both left the Salk, I would transmute into a part-time plant pathologist. The current work of my lab is a testament to Chris’ outsized intellectual influence.

Xiji Xia – While I was a PhD student at Iowa State University, I presented a paper in a journal club published in Cell by Chris Lamb’s group (Levine et al, 1994),. It was entitled ‘H2O2 from the oxidative burst orchestrates the plant hypersensitive disease resistance response’. It was still the early days in the plant molecular era of our understanding of the plant defense response. That paper attracted me to the field of molecular plant-pathogen interactions. I contacted Chris for an opportunity to do my postdoctoral training under his supervision. I was fortune that he accepted my application and I became a Salk Institute/Noble Foundation joint postdoctoral fellow in early 1997.
Although plant defense was a new field to me, I was able to quickly learn the concepts, methodologies, and technologies from Chris and the highly talented team he had built that played a pioneering role in unraveling the reactive oxygen species-mediated defense mechanism and in other areas of molecular plant-pathogen interactions. Although Chris usually did not give long discussions during our meetings, he was visionary and always spot-on with his advice. He was instrumental in driving us toward big conceptual questions. He encouraged us to develop our own ideas and approaches and allowed us to make independent decisions, so that we could become independent researchers. Chris also strongly encouraged his team members to collaborate. On the same day I joined Chris’s lab, Dr. Massimo Delledonne, a scientist from Italy, also joined the lab as a visiting fellow. Massimo had generated the hypothesis that nitric oxide works with H2O2 to induce the hypersensitive response during plant-pathogen interactions. He asked me to collaborate with him to test this hypothesis. The collaboration led to a joint publication in Nature in 1998 entitled ‘Nitric oxide functions as a signal in plant disease resistance’.
As the director of the plant biology laboratory at The Salk Institute, Chris had earlier recruited Joanne Chory and Detlef Weigel as faculty members. When I joined the institute as a postdoc, both Joanne and Detlef had also established their own teams as global leaders in light/brassinosteroid signaling and flower development, respectively. It was an exciting time for me to be at the world-leading center in plant research, with the opportunity to learn new ideas and discoveries almost daily from these three teams.

Chris’s mentorship, vision, and encouragement have heavily influenced my career. He was the best professional mentor I could have asked for. Since my postdoc training, I have built my own research team with a major focus on plant defense signaling.