22 December 2002
FSA UNDER ATTACK - AGAIN!/FALSE DAWNS IN THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF GENETICS
1.Fury at snub to organic food by safety watchdog
2.FALSE DAWNS IN THE BRAVE WORLD OF NEW GENETICS
"The FSA [the UK's Food Standards Agency] chairman, Sir John Krebs, is accused by the Soil Association of being an advocate of genetically modified food.
"Sir John recently admitted to trying to 'undermine' claims that organic farming is more environmentally friendly than conventional agriculture.
"...Mounting disquiet towards Sir John is reflected in another letter to the FSA... The letter, signed by Sainsbury's and the National Farmers' Union, is critical of the watchdog's attempts to research the benefits of organic crops. They demand an explanation for an organics research programme announced by the FSA more than a year ago." (item 1)
"There have been huge advances in genetics knowledge over the past three decades. But in that same time the claims made by the geneticists have far outrun their actual achievements. There's also now a big industry built on all this. The whole biotech industry is based on hope and promise, and those are very powerful driving forces. Everybody's hoping their investment - be it financial, political, scientific or even philosophical - in genetics will pay off.
"It's rather like what happened at the end of the [Second World] War when physicists persuaded governments that a vast investment in nuclear power would pay off in infinitely cheap energy. What happened? We got Chernobyl.' - Prof Steven Rose (item 2)
1.Fury at snub to organic food by safety watchdog
Sunday December 22, 2002
Some of Britain's most famous high-street shops have launched an attack on the Government's food safety watchdog, accusing it of derailing the organic sector.
Supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, believe the refusal of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to endorse organics could be costing the trade millions of pounds.
in the sector, yet are increasingly exasperated at the FSA's refusal even to acknowledge evidence of the environmental benefits of organics.
Representatives of the British Retail Consortium - which represents 90 per cent of the high street - and of the Food and Drink Federation are now demanding that the watchdog fully justifies its stance.
The Observer can also reveal that one of Tony Blair's key environmental advisers - Jonathon Porritt - has launched a separate attack on the FSA.
A letter from the chairman of the Government's Sustainable Development Commission to the watchdog warns that its 'credibility' is being damaged by its stance on organics.
Other eminent critics of the watchdog's intransigence include Prince Charles, who grows organics on his Highgrove estate.
The watchdog has retaliated by arguing that its stance is based on scientific evidence and was not designed to thwart the expansion of organic food.
The FSA chairman, Sir John Krebs, is accused by the Soil Association of being an advocate of genetically modified food.
Sir John recently admitted to trying to 'undermine' claims that organic farming is more environmentally friendly than conventional agriculture.
Mounting disquiet towards Sir John is reflected in another letter to the FSA, this time from green farming group Sustain. The letter, signed by Sainsbury's and the National Farmers' Union, is critical of the watchdog's attempts to research the benefits of organic crops. They demand an explanation for an organics research programme announced by the FSA more than a year ago.
Such concern is also mirrored in Whitehall. Michael Meacher, Environment Minister, and animal welfare Minister Elliot Morley are known to have voiced their concerns to Sir John.
However, a spokesman for the FSA said: 'There is no difference between organics and conventionally produced food. It's a matter of consumer choice. There is no scientific evidence that organic produce is any different.'
Despite the absence of the FSA's backing, sales of organic food have soared by 40 per cent annually over the past six years.
It is one of the fastest-growing areas of the UK food and drink sector with sales of £1 billion a year.
One source at a major retailer admits the FSA's advice has made it difficult to promote organics. 'It makes it very difficult to communicate the message, especially as standards are getting higher.'
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said: 'The confidence should be underpinned by the FSA rather than undermined. The market could be losing millions a year.'
2.FALSE DAWNS IN THE BRAVE WORLD OF NEW GENETICS
Sunday December 22, 2002
Gene science has the potential to transform the course of our lives, from 'designer babies' to slowing the ageing process. But how far advanced is it - and exactly where is it going? Mike Bygrave asked the scientists at its cutting edge to separate the hype from the reality
It has been the Year of the Gene. Fresh from their triumph of 'sequencing' (spelling out) the three billion letters of the human genome, molecular biology and the New Genetics left the science pages and hit the front pages.
Genetic discoveries alternated with genetic threats in the headlines almost daily. One day scientists found genes 'for' asthma or skin cancer. The next day came warnings over GM foods or mix-ups at IVF clinics like the one that resulted in a white mother giving birth to two black babies. Last week, a High Court ruling dashed the hopes of parents who wanted to create a 'tissue-typed' baby to help a sick sibling.
Worries over the health of Dolly the sheep, the world's first clone, were set against regular rumours of human cloning (as yet unsubstantiated). While DNA testing became standard police procedure, no one was sure how they felt about its forthcoming use as a routine medical tool, available at your local GP's surgery - a fear symbolised by the spat over stolen DNA being used to prove Steve Bing's paternity of Liz Hurley's baby.
In the US, the Bush administration restricted stem-cell research and is on the verge of banning all human cloning, causing an angry reaction from patients who might benefit, led by the quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve. In Britain, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was shared by Sir John Sulston of Cambridge's Laboratory of Molecular Biology - who promptly used his new fame to warn about the dangers in the New Genetics.
In the realm of ideas, too, everything seemed to be about biology. The nature versus nurture debate revived from the Sixties, when it had revolved around IQ and had bitter, racial overtones. This time around, it was less to do with race but no less bitter, with genetic fundamentalists such as Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins arguing that 'the answer lies in our genes'. Opponents, such as media psychologist Oliver James, defended more flexible accounts of human behaviour.
Meanwhile, a separate, equally hard-fought controversy erupted over the future of molecular biology itself and its promise - or threat - to transform what it means to be human. Is the New Genetics a Frankenstein science, leading to a post-human future full of designer babies for those who can afford them ruling over a genetically deprived underclass? Do we need to regulate research now if we are to preserve our essential humanity, as the American intellectual Francis Fukuyama argued in his new book, Our Posthuman Future ?
Last summer, Fukuyama visited Britain to debate with Los Angeles science writer Gregory Stock whose book, Redesigning Humans, takes a gung-ho view of the New Genetics. Their debate stayed on the 'designer babies versus Frankenstein's monster' level. To critics such as Steve Jones - professor of genetics at the Galton Laboratory, University College, London, and a top popular science writer himself - that is a missed opportunity, a fake issue arising from the 'huge overselling of genetics that has been going on almost since the science began. The problem is that people who are not scientists - and some who are - are using science to explore questions which are not scientific but have to do with ethics or identity or social change.'
Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientist with the Medical Research Council who was on the panel for the Stock-Fukuyama debate, agrees that 'such debates are missed opportunities because they are more about science fiction than science fact. We need to concentrate on what is possible and not on fantasy. There should be a debate and the public clearly wants one, but they need proper information in order to take part.'
So what is possible? What constitutes 'proper information'? And how come the past 100 years turned out to be, in science historian Evelyn Fox-Keller's phrase, 'the century of the gene' in the first place?
THE DOUBLE HELIX
In 1953, Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson announced the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. It was one of the most celebrated scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. A gene is a strand of DNA. And DNA, with its four-letter genetic code (A,G,C,T), is us. The four letters, which are arranged in sequences of three to make up the six billion letters in the human genome, are the initial letters of the names of four amino acids which are DNA's bases. Those acids join to make proteins which in turn become cells which become bodies (and brains). Hence the Central Dogma formulated by Crick in 1957: 'DNA makes RNA [another acid, a kind of copy of itself], RNA makes protein and proteins make us.'
According to Steve Rose, author and professor of biology at the Open University, 'that's where you start to get those metaphors of DNA as the Master Molecule and genes as the key to the Book of Life and all that stuff. Like all great simplifications in science, [Crick's Central Dogma] was brilliant - and not true.'
Rose means that we now have a much more complicated picture of how genes work than Crick's original scheme. Instead of a repetitive one-note, it's more like a 'cellular jazz orchestra' in Rose's view. But even as that picture began to change, there were two more major landmarks in the New Genetics. They were the development of recombinant DNA technology in the Seventies and the sequencing of the entire human genome, which was completed with chronological symbolism just as the century ended.
Recombinant DNA technology is the technology behind those catchphrases like 'genetic engineering' and 'gene therapy'. Thanks to its procedures, scientists can manipulate genes, take genes from one form of life and transplant them into another, translate and even rewrite that Book of Life, if you like - and the Book is now being rewritten or retranslated daily, though as yet only among plants (GM foods) and certain animals, and even there much of the work is experimental. Some people believe the radical difference in complexity between plants and animals on the one hand and human beings on the other - along with the high wastage rate involved in these technologies - means the gap can never be bridged, except in limited ways.
Once we thought that the biological world existed in rigid, fixed compartments. Each species kept to itself; plants kept to themselves. About the only interaction between them happened when some of them ate others. Now we find the life-world is a much more fluid, plastic and unified place than we imagined. This change of view is the sum of three broad discoveries of the New Genetics.
First, we now know the DNA profiles of some organisms are very similar: for instance, humans share 98 per cent of genetic material with chimpanzees. Second, we know that genes are interchangeable between species. And third, we know that individual genes can be persuaded to behave in plastic ways within an organism, for example in cloning and stem-cell research. Put these three pieces of the puzzle together and optimistic scientists believe they will one day be able to intervene to alter humans by manipulating our genes.
Why should we want them to? Well, for a start you will probably die of a genetic disease. Now that the infectious diseases which killed our ancestors at early ages have largely been conquered in the rich West (with the exception of Aids), most people die of the diseases of ageing, which are genetic. And geneticists have an increasing amount to say about ageing. Then there are all the other, rarer conditions which still cripple and kill millions, from Parkinson's to diabetes, cystic fibrosis to Down's syndrome.
Christopher Reeve is the most famous person paralysed by a spinal cord injury which stem-cell research may one day help. There is now a tremendous amount of research going on into Alzheimer's - a famous sufferer was the late Iris Murdoch.
After talking to a range of working scientists and researchers, it is relatively easy to come up with a short list of the hot button topics in genetics and their likely progress over, say, the next 10 years. The consensus about what can and cannot (and may never be) done is not complete, but it is impressive. There is more than enough on the agenda to keep everyone busy without worrying about designer babies - or Frankenstein's monsters either.
SCIENCE FACT V SCIENCE FICTION
The list goes like this:
pre-implantation genetic diagnosis;
germ-line therapy and gene therapy, which together comprise what most people think of as 'genetic engineering';
the impenetrably named pharmacogenetics, which could turn out to be the most useful of all.
Extend the list outside of human beings and it gets both longer and more commercial, including things like GM crops, genetic enhancements of animals bred for food, genetically modified animals used as living 'drug factories' (called 'pharming'), and more. Many of the things the Fukuyamas and Stocks fear (or welcome) for humans are being tried with animals and plants. But they work only where the safety of the subjects is not considered a major issue (as opposed to the safety of consumers, an issue with GM foods) and very high failure rates are socially acceptable. In other words, these technologies cannot simply be transferred from plants and animals to humans - and perhaps never will be.
Apart from cloning - the most famous of all genetic buzzwords. Dolly the cloned sheep is the poster girl for the New Genetics. Dolly's birth in 1997 caused a sensation in part because people were so certain it could not be done. Well, it can, but it is messy: 276 failed attempts to make a sheep before Dolly; about 9,000 cloned embryos needed to produce around 70 cloned calves, a third of which died young. Some scientists believe even healthy-looking clones conceal genetic abnormalities. And there has been total failure in cloning horses and chickens, though no one knows why. Will there be a human clone one day? Almost certainly, though nowhere near as soon as scientific self-promoters such as Italy's Severino Antinori keep announcing (but not delivering).
Cloning makes us both excited and uneasy because of its sci-fi implications. Perhaps we should not worry so much. Even if (when) cloning becomes safe enough to use with humans, it is hard to think of any real demand for it beyond a handful of eccentrics.
Gregory Stock, who spends his life travelling and lecturing on these issues, has met most of the obvious candidates - the terminally infertile; people who have taken terrible tragic losses of a beloved son or only daughter or young wife. Most say yes, they have heard about cloning, they thought about it, but no, even if it was available, they know a clone would not be the same as their lost loved one (a person is not just his or her genes) or as the child they crave (a clone is a clone of one person only). They understand that what they want is different from anything science could ever provide. One or two would want it anyway. But then, as Lovell-Badge says: 'Does it really matter if there are a few clones walking about?'
SEX AND DEATH
The controversy over human cloning underlines the New Genetics' link to fertility and existing sexual technologies. The New Genetics has to do with birth as much as it does with ageing. It plugs into the strong emotions aroused by sex and death - hence the histrionic tone of debates over genetic issues.
Having healthy children - or having children at all - is the second reason we want scientists to intervene in our biology. Unlike the science of ageing, which remains mostly in the research lab, fertility is already a huge business involving big money and a half-hidden ocean of human misery. About one married couple in six has some problem with fertility. More than one million people have now been born via artificial insemination. Estimates are that, within two or three years, about the same number will have begun their lives in a test tube (or these days, a Petri dish). And there are all the scare stories about surrogate mothers and mix-ups at fertility clinics.
Meanwhile IVF, the leading-edge technology, which consists of harvesting the eggs from a woman's womb, fertilising them and replacing some of the embryos, remains a clunky, unpleasant, emotionally draining procedure with a significant failure rate. As one expert told a recent London conference on IVF: 'I do feel, often, IVF patients are the experiment.'
Genetics slips in alongside IVF at present, in the form of 'pre-implantation genetic diagnosis', PGD for short. PGD is a proven medical technology (although it remains expensive and difficult to do). Given the 'therapeutic gap' between basic science and its translation into clinical treatments - the most obvious example is cancer where there has not really been a new treatment in 50 years, during which time billions have been poured into cancer research - PGD may be the New Genetics' main contribution to human welfare for some years to come.
In an IVF clinic, a number of eggs are fertilised and developed into embryos outside the womb. With certain mothers, usually those who have already borne a child with a genetic mutation like cystic fibrosis, their embryos can now be screened for the several thousand known conditions caused by a 'single-gene disease'. Then only the healthy embryos are implanted.
Then there is sex selection. The traditional methods were infanticide and abortion and they were widespread. The New Genetics offers new, improved ways of testing for sex and, for those who can afford the procedures, ways of trying to choose their baby's sex in advance (the main method, called sperm-sorting, is, like IVF, clunky and far from foolproof).
What is a controversial consumer item (cost: £8,000) in the First World can be a harsher matter elsewhere. In parts of the Third World, a foetus of the wrong sex (ie female) can be an instant trigger for abortion and there are reportedly major, semi-illicit trades in testing and aborting for gender. As science advances, there will be other, medical - as opposed to cultural and economic - versions of this dilemma. For example, more pregnant women will be told they are carrying a child with a disease that will kill him (or her) in his thirties or forties and for which there is no current cure. What should they do? In 30 or 40 years, science may have found a cure. Anyway, are 30 or 40 years not a life - or worth a life?
There will be more adults, too, whose GPs will be able to tell them, via DNA diagnosis, what disease will kill them and maybe roughly when - and for them there will be no 30 or 40 years to wait and no cure. Will they want to know their fate? Will their life insurers and their medical insurers and their employers want to know? And whose right to know will win?
At present, one child in 30 in Britain is born with a genetic disorder. Across the world, there are large areas with even worse incidences. Whatever your feelings about sex selection and other refinements, most people endorse the use of PGD to screen for such disorders.
Scientists hope to improve the technology to the point where it can screen for one, maybe even two, positive 'traits' - for example blue eyes and height. That would still rule out the ideas of the genetic visionaries like Stock, who think PGD could be the first step to 'designer babies' and the re-engineering of mankind, by allowing parents to select among their embryos for all sorts of desirable (to the parents) qualities. The reasons this cannot work are not technical so much as statistical, to do with the way genes are passed on through sex. To screen for two traits you need at least 16 embryos, for three, 64 embryos and so on. Since the maximum number of embryos an IVF procedure produces are typically between 16 and 20, you can do the sums.
Gene therapy applies to adults; germ-line therapy is gene therapy on embryos. The one on adults has not worked out so far. Undaunted, the visionaries argue that germ-line therapy will actually be an easier proposition for the obvious reason that everything is more fluid then, less fixed or developed. As Stock writes, 'the need to ferry a therapeutic gene into particular tissue [in adult gene therapy] disappears because [in embryos] the gene is already in every cell. The challenge is to regulate the gene so that it is active at the right level and at the right time and place.'
Attempting to alter genes in human embryos is controversial because it means manipulating the genetic inheritance of someone who cannot consent. No one is attempting it right now. Moreover, to work as a therapy, it would need to alter that person's descendants too, on through generations. So why not use PGD and eliminate that embryo in the first place?
GENETICS AND AGEING
The biggest surprise to me talking to biologists was the progress they are making at the other end of the human story - namely, old age and death. Ageing research is a new branch of science. Until very recently, the Big Money and the Big Science went into studying the diseases of ageing, like cancer: any knowledge of the ageing process itself was a by-product. Now, if people like Professor Tom Kirkwood of the University of Newcastle have their way, the position is about to be reversed. 'Much more has been done in ageing research than is yet widely recognised,' he says. 'We now understand much more clearly the nature of the beast - the broad structure of the mechanisms that leads to ageing and age-related diseases.'
According to Kirkwood, at the root of this structure is rubbish. Most of our cells divide and copy throughout our lives. Red blood cells renew themselves every four months or so, for instance. At the genetic level, each of us makes thousands of miles of new DNA every minute. Numerous mutations - errors - creep in and, though the body includes intricate repair and maintenance tools, they do not catch or fix them all. Gradually, the errors - the rubbish - pile up and swamp the system until they create 'the biological identity crisis' (in Steve Jones's phrase) which is ageing and death.
We are starting to get a fair picture of how that crisis develops, and to draw some conclusions. The strangest one is that eating less might prolong life. This is not a question of that old schoolyard game, the thinnies versus the fatties. We are talking about extreme low-calorie diets. Placed on such diets, mice and rats live longer. Why should that be?
'Organisms evolve under the pressure of natural selection, which tries to maximise an organism's individual fitness, its capacity to perpetuate its genes,' Kirkwood says. 'There are two aspects to fitness: one is how long the individual lives and the second is fertility. For both of these you need resources - food. What seems to happen is that in bad times, when food is scarce, mice and rats shut down their fertility and use their resources for survival - longevity - by shifting them into bolstering their repair and maintenance mechanisms.'
The theory is that humans, because they died young for most of our species' history, have evolved putting more of their resources into fertility and less into repair and maintenance. Low-calorie diets are an amusing sub-plot for ageing researchers, who have a range of targets and techniques to bring to bear on the ageing process - and, in the end, to prolong life itself.
Kirkwood says: 'In ageing, in cancer research, in stem-cell research, in several of these fields, we actually know quite well in principle what we need to do to intervene. But the devil is always in the details. What we have to do is understand the mechanisms in sufficiently close details that we can develop effective treatments and, as cancer research has shown, that can be a frustratingly difficult problem.'
Kirkwood describes ageing research as a 'marathon', where we are on the starting line. That leaves stem cells as the hottest candidate for the next 'medical miracle'.
Remember all those embryos the IVF clinic did not use but threw out instead? That's where stem cells come from. Stem cells are a different kind of 'rubbish' from ageing debris. Stem cells are the kind that can be recycled. But their origin makes them controversial, especially in America, where the religious Right has included them in its crusade against abortion. Their manipulation by scientists, who then have to grow them via so-called 'therapeutic cloning', also makes them controversial among some bio-ethicists who consider this the 'slippery slope' to full human cloning, which they oppose.
The US Right has seized on stem cells to symbolise everything about the New Genetics that frightens people - its supposed 'Frankenstein' implications, tampering with human identity, cloning, the connection with abortion, 'playing God'. The Bush administration has limited federally funded researchers to using 64 'cell lines' already in existence.
Although the Bush restrictions at present apply only to federal research money, they have been enough to trigger an angry response from patients who look to stem-cell research as their great hope. In a recent Guardian interview, Christopher Reeve - who has been paralysed since his 1995 horse-riding accident - argued 'if we'd had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated at the University of Wisconsin in 1998, I don't think it's unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now ... I'm angry and disappointed ... I think we could have been much further along with scientific research than we actually are, and I think I would have been in quite a different situation than I am today.'
With Bush's recent mid-term victories, there is the threat of even more US regulation and religious controversy. It has been enough to make scientists look for an alternative to embryonic stem cells, such as adult stem cells. Hence the recent headlines when US scientists proposed injecting human embryonic stem cells into a mouse. The trial, if it happens, might show whether embryonic cells work in a living animal. But the resulting man-mouse chimera is unpredictable.
The diseases stem-cell researchers have in their sights are Parkinson's, diabetes and spinal cord injuries like Reeve's. The reasons are to do with the nature of the diseases (or the injury). With Parkinson's and diabetes, we already know we can get 'a significant cure of the symptoms', as Lovell-Badge puts it, by 'delivering cells to the right sort of region'. Likewise, with spinal cord injuries, 'there are a whole lot of different approaches each of which suggests you can get some sort of repair with these injuries'.
Lovell-Badge, whose own research is on mouse and not human cells, sees clinical experiments using stem cells with Parkinson's and perhaps diabetes too within five years, clinical trials within 10 and general medical use in around 15 years. Spinal cord injuries will take longer.
Another way of using genetics in medicine has to do with drugs - pharmacogenetics as it is called. If ageing is a new branch of science, pharmacogenetics is only just out of the womb. David Goldstein, an American expat professor at University College, London, is one of its leaders. 'In the future medicines will be tailored to people's genetic make-up,' Goldstein believes. 'We don't know much about genetic responses to drugs yet. What we do know is that variable response to drugs is an important medical problem. Adverse drug reactions are actually a leading cause of death in the developed world - fourth or fifth in America. Some of that is environmental - drug interactions, diet and so on - but some is genetic. When you add in that all the drugs in use today work on fewer than half the patients for whom they're prescribed, you see the potential.'
Two things are needed to realise that potential. One is collecting 'sample sets' of information about how patients react to various drugs. That is the hardest because hospitals and doctors do not operate that way. They try one drug, then another, until they find one that works but which drug or what combination does not matter. No one collects the information.
The other thing is powerful computer programs that could hunt for the variables once the raw data was collected. Those did not exist until recently, but they are starting to be developed now. Put the two together and 'medicine will become quite a bit more effective,' Goldstein says.
THE GENE WARS
By the end of the Nineties, the century of the gene had become the century of genetic determinism. So far, the new century looks like being even more of the same. Popularised by Richard Dawkins, the notion of 'selfish genery' is a particular take on Darwin's theory of evolution. According to this twist, bodies are just 'lumbering robots' for the transmission of the all-important genes. Conversely, then, genes must be the essence of a person. Maybe there are genes for intelligence and beauty, genes for alcoholism and criminality: if it is not in your genes, you do not have it, and if it is, you have and always will.
The trouble with this view is that its meaning is as much political as scientific - and the science is increasingly under attack.
Steve Rose says: 'Part of the reason [genetic determinism] has been so popular is people have despaired of social solutions to problems. In the Sixties, people thought that through revolution - social engineering - you could achieve almost anything. Now people are fatalistic, there is no way to change things, which fits with genetic determinism. Then along comes this Promethean-looking technology called "genetics", which promises to change humans scientifically. It all fits very well with a laisser-faire liberal political ideology.'
It is also a paradox, as Rose points out. On the one hand, genes are destiny that no one can escape. On the other hand, there are new technologies we are developing which will enable us to do exactly that.
Besides, Rose says, our picture of how genes work is much more complex, interactive and open than it used to be. It no longer makes much sense to say there is a gene or even multiple genes 'for' a trait like alcoholism.
On the broader scale as well, scientists like the late Stephen Jay Gould have challenged the exclusive role of natural selection in the process, arguing that other factors are involved. Genetic fundamentalists such as Dawkins and Pinker get the publicity, but many other scientists feel they are dealing with a biological world where a reductionist view may be essential in order to take apart and understand how small pieces of the mechanism work; but those small pieces make sense only when fitted back into an enormously complex, interactive whole.
Most scientists accept there will be regulation of this new field but they want to see it kept to a minimum. 'There weren't any motoring offences before there were cars,' one said, meaning no one felt the need to announce sweeping moral principles about driving before cars were on the roads.
At the same time, scientists are equally wary of shunning such debates altogether. Everyone remembers Lord Rutherford, the greatest expert on the atom, saying an atomic bomb was unthinkable - ridiculous - like landing people on the moon. No one dares to rule out a Big Bang in genetics (even though they cannot see how it could happen) which would make current fantasies of designer babies and Frankenstein's monsters come true too.
Then there is Rose's wryly radical assessment: 'There have been huge advances in genetics knowledge over the past three decades. But in that same time the claims made by the geneticists have far outrun their actual achievements. There's also now a big industry built on all this. The whole biotech industry is based on hope and promise, and those are very powerful driving forces. Everybody's hoping their investment - be it financial, political, scientific or even philosophical - in genetics will pay off.
'It's rather like what happened at the end of the [Second World] War when physicists persuaded governments that a vast investment in nuclear power would pay off in infinitely cheap energy. What happened? We got Chernobyl.'