Professor studying herbicide’s effect on frogs faces laboratory funding setbacks

Shirin Ghaffary/File

Related Posts

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.”

Contact J. Hannah Lee at [email protected]

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that UC Berkeley currently has institutional ties with Novartis or Syngenta. In fact, the campus currently has no such institutional ties. The article also should have included that the Office of Laboratory Animal Care disputes the allegation that Hayes is being charged unfairly higher fees than other researchers.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hayes has been a vocal critic of a five-year research agreement between UC Berkeley and Novartis. In fact, Hayes has been a vocal critic of Novartis’ involvement in his research on the effects of atrazine on amphibians.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hayes conducts research on 100,000 amphibians. In fact, Hayes conducts research on 10,000.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Office of Laboratory Animal Care feeds and waters the amphibians as well as cleans their cages. In fact, they do not.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hayes paid the university up to 50 percent of the total $250,000 dollars required to run his lab annually. In fact, last year he was charged $60,000 in lab fees, about 24 percent of the total cost to run the lab.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Hayes’ research assistants conduct animal care in order to lower laboratory costs. In fact, according to Hayes, the research assistants care for for the animals because of the specificity of experimental protocols.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Mai Nguyen is a graduate student in the Molecular and cell Biology department. In fact, Nguyen is an incoming graduate student in Integrative Biology.

A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Hayes alleges he is required to pay 21 times more than all other professors doing animal research. In fact, according to Hayes he pays 21 times more than professor Harland.