August 26, 2009
Chris Lamb, the Salk Institute’s first plant biologist, died suddenly August 21st at age 59 in Norwich, England.
Lamb, an eminent researcher, examined the way plants defend themselves against pathogens, conducting some of the first molecular biology studies in the plant pathogen world. Much of that groundbreaking work was performed at the Salk Institute over his more than 15 years in La Jolla, from 1983 to 1998.
Former Salk President Frederic de Hoffmann recruited Lamb from Oxford, providing the resources for Lamb to establish what would become an extraordinary Plant Biology program at the Salk that also encouraged excellence across the Torrey Pines Mesa.
“Chris had a good sense of the big picture,” said Prof. Joanne Chory, who was recruited to the Salk by Lamb in 1988. He was focused and analytical, and always knew how to move things forward, she said.
Lamb “had a real sense of the beauty of plant biology,” she said. Beyond his superb science, Lamb will be remembered as the founding faculty member of the Salk program and as an international voice for the discipline, Chory said.
Lamb returned to England to lead the John Innes Centre, one of the world’s leading institutions of plant research. He promoted a culture of excellence there, and was recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his scientific achievements.
In 2000, two years after moving to the John Innes Centre, Lamb returned here for a visit, saying he’d come back to California “for a dose of optimism.” Chory said he remained very fond of the Salk and spoke of how it had influenced him.
Last October Lamb again returned to the Salk to help celebrate the Plant Biology Lab’s 25th anniversary. Today, notes Chory, Plant Biology now has 16 principal investigators across the mesa (Salk, UCSD and Scripps), seven of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Chris’ legacy in La Jolla is not just his own science, but the scientists he identified and mentored who have made La Jolla one of the top places for plant science in the world,” Chory said. “We are deeply saddened by this loss.”