Tyrone Hayes, a UC Berkeley professor who has been a longtime vocal critic of the common herbicide atrazine, is facing potential obstacles in his research due to a recent notification that his lab is running a deficit.
Hayes, a professor of integrative biology, says that his lab’s financial woes are a result of what he alleges are unreasonably high fees from the Office of Laboratory Animal Care (OLAC) during the last 15 years, which OLAC disputes.
The office provides services including health monitoring for the more than 10,000 amphibians Hayes conducts research on. Fees charged by the office vary depending on animal species and tank size, but Hayes alleges that OLAC has been unfairly charging him in particular. According to Hayes, from 1998 to 2013, fees for his lab have increased by 21 times more than Professor Richard Harland, and in recent years, Hayes said he has paid the campus $60,000 of the total $250,000 dollars required to run his lab annually.
“There’s no money for research, no money for staff, no money for animals,” Hayes said. “It’s created a situation where it’s impossible for me to do research.”
Hayes’ lab focuses on the hormonal and reproductive development of amphibians. His research gained widespread attention when his findings showed that the company Syngenta’s herbicide atrazine was harmful to the sexual development of frogs. Hayes has been a vocal critic of Novartis, the parent company of Syngenta. Since his controversial research claims were published, Hayes has expressed concern over retaliation by Novartis.
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof, Hayes’ past contention with Syngenta is unrelated to the lab’s recent funding issues as UC Berkeley currently does not have any existing institutional ties with Novartis or Syngenta.
“As a result of keeping a relatively large number of frogs, (Hayes) had a deficit,” Mogulof said. “The result of paying that bill is that his funds have been depleted to a level where cannot continue his research.”
Hayes says that although he has a large number of amphibians that need care, his fees should be lower because research assistants in his lab perform a bulk of the tasks to maintain the health of the animals.
Mai Nguyen, an integrative biology graduate student, has worked with Hayes since 2008 and said lab members share animal care duties, including feeding, changing water and cleaning tubs for animals, which can take up to several hours a day — a practice that takes away research time.
George Bentley, an associate professor of integrative biology, also conducts animal research and said that because Hayes’ lab research assistants partake in some animal-care tasks, he would imagine the lab’s fees to be much lower.
“I would be incensed if I knew I was paying more than everyone else,” Bentley said. “I would think it’s common sense that if the lab members are doing the bulk of the animal care, they should be eligible to negotiate a lower per diem rate.”
In order to continue his research, Hayes said he expects funding from private donors, such as the Mitchell Kapor foundation, in September. Hayes also said he is considering a lawsuit against the university.
“We’ll get the money, I’m positive,” Hayes said, “and if not, we’ll take care of things.”