Colin is part of the Leakey clan of scientists who don't mind swimming against the tide until the tide turns in their favour. Leakey's seem inclined to be unashamedly enthusiastic in pursuit of their beliefs. Colin has sometimes described himself as the one the National Geographic doesn't know about.
Colin was born in 1933 in Cambridge. He is the eldest son of Louis S. B. Leakey (of old bones of Olduvai Gorge to Calico Hills etc.) and the elder half brother of Richard (more old bones, but also elephants and politics). He is also elder cousin of Roger (agro forestry research, with whom he shares many botanical / agro forestry interests). For more about the Leakeys you can search the Web for 'Leakey' and 'Beans' and refer to Virginia Morrell, book Ancestral Passions (1995).
Louis Leakey's first wife Frida left Louis when Colin was a few months old brought up Colin and his elder sister. Frida Leakey was an early graduate of Newnham College. It was she who discovered the site (FLK) where Mary, Louis's second wife, later founded Zinganthropus. Later in her life she was much involved with adult education, the Women's Institutes and was a genuinely independent Cambridge County Councillor. Colin lives with his wife Susan in the house that his mother purchased in 1932 following their first African dig together. Her husband was at that time a Fellow of St. Johns College. Colin and Susan have three grown up daughters and five grandchildren.
Colin minds very much about food and nutrition and feeding the World. He has lectured on Man, Food and Health. Globally, man's diet is astonishingly diverse and interesting in the many niches successfully occupied. Colin does not think GM will be very helpful in feeding the World and regrets that more conventional crop improvement is being starved of resources. He is one of the 381 signatories to the 'World Scientists' open letter on genetically modified organisms. He does not support the current popularly accepted views of the nature and transmission of BSE and CJD. He believes a mobile genetic element or defective virus is involved and has been initially accidentally transmitted as a prelude to the disease. The 'silent' infection is environmentally activated. (See witness statements to BSE Inquiry).
His abiding interest since 1961 has been in plant breeding. He has been fortunate for many years in being able to rent a field for bean breeding immediately to the rear of his garden and has enjoyed much support in his work from many friends. His practical work is concerned with his determination to create more diverse types of beans and tastier food for human consumption.
He is also interested in appropriate (efficient) technologies for organic agriculture. He has a very high regard for Lilliston Rolling Cultivators, which were developed for efficient crop production in the U.S.A. in the pre-herbicide era. He also has other novel ideas concerning organic farming technologies available to enthusiastic entrepreneurs.
He is very widely travelled and since leaving Uganda in 1973 has had several parallel simultaneous careers in different aspects of developmental consultancy. Odd specialties have included pioneering in agricultural applications for information technology (See System for Computerised Agricultural Planning and Actions (SCAPA) and SCAMPA projects). He has also attempted to match enterprise choice to real resources in many diverse ecological circumstances including Vanilla and Breadfruit cultivation, the production of Silk and Silk Mulberries and the horticulture of several medicinal herbs and shrubs.
After completing National Service in the Navy (Spies and The Cold War, to be written later). Colin studied Physiology, Biochemistry and Botany and also History and Philosophy of Science, for his Natural Sciences first degree at Cambridge University. He values the broad base this gave and has continued correspondingly wide interests. After graduating he took specialist training in tropical agriculture and tropical plant pathology first at Exeter University and then in Trinidad where the University of the West Indies campus was in the course of converting from the former Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture. He received his Postgraduate Diploma in Tropical Agriculture, specializing in tropical plant pathology and was awarded the Currie Memorial Prize for his year (narrowly piping Gordon Conway, now President of the Rockefeller Foundation, whom he admires for the new thinking he has brought to that august position).
In 1972, having already guided a number of successful MSc. and Ph.D. students at Makerere University in Uganda he was awarded his own Ph.D. degree 'by the publications route' of his old University, Cambridge. He regards doctorates as something of a 'union ticket', and is not entirely respectful of academia in vacuo.
He worked overseas in Uganda as a travelling specialist, based at Kew, England from a team of peripatetic disease investigators known then as the 'Colonial Pool of Plant Pathologists'. His main early work was on bean diseases in support of the Uganda National bean breeding programme. He also researched the diseases of coffee and other tropical crops such as cotton, cocoa and vanilla. He transferred, by invitation, to Makerere University, Kampala in 1965 to help set up the specialist graduate programmes in plant pathology and plant breeding. His work and in particular obtaining resources for studentships for African scientists training for professional specialization, was generously and far-sightedly funded by the Rockefeller Foundation until 1971. Thereafter work continued with British Government support until the near ruination of Uganda's Institutions and Public Safety wrought by Idi Amin .
From 1971 the Makerere University bean programme was linked with the, by then, internationally famous bean programme at Cambridge University initiated by Sir Joseph Hutchinson and then managed by the late Alice Evans (known affectionately to Colin as the Queen Bean). Colin set up a co-operative programme for evaluation work on his Uganda beans with the H. J. Heinz laboratories in U. K. Some of Colin's newly bred beans proved, rather to his surprise and that of the breeder John Hamblin, to be excellently well adapted to Cambridge conditions. That, he supposes, is why he still works on beans!
In 1969 an inter-faculty committee between nutritionists, doctors and agriculturists at Makerere had suggested that beans be made more digestible and less flatulent if they were to be used as weaning food for babies. Quality should be rated as highly as or higher than quantity. That was the beginning of a trail that is not yet over. In recent years the bean digestibility question has greatly caught the public imagination. This trail leads currently to the Enola controversy between Mexico, CIAT and the USA (see below) since Colin pointed out the perceived merits of yellow colored beans in many presentations to the Media. Yellow beans included those he had bred himself from European parentage i.e. the PRIM bean, and others including traditional beans from Mexico, Chile and Peru and varieties listed as early as 1908 in the USA but long apparently forgotten. For more information concerning the Enola yellow bean controversy visit http://www.igc.org/panna/resources/pannups/pannup_20000124.dv.html and other pages on the internet referring to ENOLA and beans and bio-piracy.
Colin made extensive studies, with his students at Makerere of the characteristics of large collections of beans prior to and while using selected ones as parents. Political turmoil in Uganda in the early 1970's led to the end of British funding and Colin's return to England with his family. On the way to a short resettlement Fellowship at Kings College Cambridge he took an active part in the Inaugural Bean Seminar at CIAT in 1973. He was appointed a genetic resources consultant to CIAT for several years and collected for them in Spain and Portugal. Colin with Wayne Adams, George Freytag and Alice Evans first 'discovered' and pointed out the importance of Phaseolus polyanthus in highland Colombia near Popayan, and it was his proposal that other wild species be included in the CIAT programme that led to Dr. Daniel Debouk's most valuable appointment there. Colin later became a member of the IBPGR committee to establish internationally recognized descriptors for Phaseolus vulgaris and he is responsible for most of the publication's content. He has been a member of BIC. (the Bean Improvement Co-operative) since 1971 and for several years was on its genetics committee.
In 1973 Frank Horne, then the Director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge strongly encouraged Colin to consider continuing breeding beans privately in view of the newly introduced Plant Breeders Rights Legislation', in the framing of which he, Frank had had a major role. Frank maintained that it should make it possible for successful breeders to freelance, both usefully and profitably. In principle that was a good idea, in practice freelance plant breeding became increasingly fraught with difficulties but Colin persisted with it for 28 years. He is presently disillusioned with the protection of rights over genetic materials in all its forms that he considers excessive.
His early U. K. registered cultivars included the French beans Oland and Xenia fields, and a Navy bean Anchor. Anchor was the first really well adapted British navy bean. It was earlier maturing than the standard Michigan varieties of the time, but it fell by the wayside along with others bred by other breeders because the U. K. could not really compete with the large scale imports of that commodity class from North America. This is largely because of the power, skill and clout of the well-established North American elevator companies. There have been two more turns of the same circle since that time.
Very different sorts of beans, Coquette and Horsehead were registered a little later. At first the local Seed Company, Unwins of Histon near Cambridge assisted in testing and for some time co-registering two of these varieties. Horsehead, perhaps still agronomically the best of all of these, is still in the U.K. packet seed trade and is an excellent dual purpose bean for gardeners. It could, with a fair wind, still find a much larger use in the food industry as a red mest substitute in 'Chillis' and casseroles. Later bean breeding work and outcomes are described in more detail below.
CONSULTANCIES TO BEAN PEOPLE
From 1974-1978 Colin held a part time consultancy to H. J. Heinz Ltd. This was in relation to fostering production of Navy beans by non-traditional producers. He travelled on their behalf to several Countries in Africa and also to Chile. He later returned to Chile for a private Chilean client in 1979 to make an in-depth study of the Pulse crops of that Country. During this study he came to suppose that the Araucano American Indians in Southern Chile had gone much further in domesticating high quality beans for human food use than had been credited to them. Their Coscorron and Manteca beans both seemed organoleptically superior to many other classes known elsewhere, as well as being reputedly non-windy or beans for the 'rich-man's table'. For another client, Claeys-Luck S. A. Colin set up a breeding programme in France and trained staff in breeding methods for Phaseolus beans, Soya beans and Peas. That bean programme produced several successful commercial varieties that were registered in France. Coquette, which Colin had worked on for several years in Uganda was a very determinate and disease resistant white Coco variety was registered as Co-Obtention.
THE GENETICS OF SEED COLOUR AND OTHER IMPORTANT TRAITS
In Uganda and subsequently, the genetic variation in seed color and patterning and its underlying biochemical basis, fascinated him. Work with Ugandan undergraduate students gave him respect for the accuracy of much historical analysis in Europe and especially that of Professor Prakken in the Netherlands. However there were still unexplained inconsistencies particularly between European and American data and interpretations. By 1988 he had given several informal lectures on the subject and developed a coherent overview. He was asked after a paper he gave at a conference in Malawi, to set out his interpretation of these and other classical Mendelian traits, in a Chapter in 'Genetic Resources in Phaseolus Beans' edited by Paul Gepts ( see references).
In 1989 he received a BIC Meritorious service and achievement Award for contributions to plant pathology, genetics and breeding in beans. In 1996 Emeritus Professor Wayne Adams reviewing 50 years of bean improvement, observed to the Bean Improvement Co-operative (of which both were very long standing members). 'Dr. Leakey is one of the few geneticists in our field who carries the proper intellectual genes for undertaking such a daunting task'. He might have said, less politely, 'having a stubborn streak to ferret out the truth'!
Colin has perseverance. He has consistently taken what some regard as an old fashioned, and practically Mendelian approach to plant breeding. He has hunted for and used selected parents for making not too many, but carefully chosen crosses. He has aimed to recombine particular traits, often from 'wide crosses' and then using genetically logical selection criteria based on supposed parental genotypes to achieve specific objectives. This work is described in some of his papers. This has allowed him to create some rather novel sorts of beans. It has not however excited the theoreticians nor helped to attract funding from bio-technologically obsessed donors.
After working for eight years as plant breeding consultant to Claeys-Luck in France. The Chairman of that Company suggested that the best way forward would be to form a Limited Company.