ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  21 November 2000

GENETICALLY  ALTERED  ATHLETES  etc  MAY  BE  NEXT

Two items relating to cloning, GE humans/animals etc.  Some very important questions are raised in the second article from  Malaysia:

Quote:  "These questions should not be left to a handful of leaders or a group of scientists who could be influenced by money, fame and other considerations. Many of these research laboratories are more than happy to crow about their success at medical conferences even on live television, but seldom are there any revelations on the rate of failure, especially the destruction of life forms which do not meet the required standards... With millions of ringgit being spent on such research and the price of the company's stock dependent on the success rate of these studies, it is hardly ever that the failures are made known. The lack of enforcement authorities also raises the question of whether the so-called stringent regulations imposed on such research are ever adhered to and whether what really happens in the laboratories are closely monitored."

For more on animal genetics see:  http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/gmanimal.htm

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1.    GENETICALLY ALTERED ATHLETES MAY BE NEXT
        The Toronto Star - 20 November 2000

In an experiment that has enormous implications for sports, a scientist recently took a gene from a fly, modified it, then reinserted it into the insect.  As he had thought he might, the researcher discovered that "the strength of the fly's flight muscles  were increased by 300 per cent," according to a report in the Sunday Times of London.

One is reminded of the science fiction classic, The Fly, in which a man's genes get mixed up with a fly's resulting in, well, horrific results.  There is no suggestion in this new research of macabre cross-species inter-mixing - but boosting human performance through gene therapy or genetic engineering, says the Times, may become known as "doping from hell."

The fly study was mentioned as part of a report delivered in Copenhagen last week by Swedish professor Bengt Saltin, an expert in exercise physiology. "Through gene therapy, today's elite athletes could be tomorrow's freak performers," says the Times. "Using a virus as the transport agent, particular genes can be inserted into the cell to create all kinds of change" - as early as the next Summer Games in Athens in 2004.

"The sprinter can have more fast twitch muscles, the long distance runner can have the gene that produces the blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin, the high jumper can opt for localized muscle growth in his take-off leg and the basketball player may want four or five extra inches in height. It will all be possible."

"It is very scary," said Montreal's Dick Pound, an IOC vice-president and head of its World Anti Doping Agency.

Added Professor Saltin:  "If we do not win this battle, we will eliminate sport as we know it. I don't believe we can do it with other technology. This will be too hard to detect. Sport can only survive through a new philosophy, a new morality".

When Roger Bannister broke four minutes for the mile, it was an achievement acclaimed across the world. Will the athlete who runs the first two-hour marathon be similarly recognized. I don't think so."

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2.    Agonising over the science of life by K P Waran, New Straits Times (Malaysia)
        20 November 2000

SCIENCE is something we cannot live without.  The progress in this field over centuries has helped us not only understand the world we live in but also how to diagnose and treat people.
Diseases which once were incurable can now be treated by medication, and surgical procedures including transplants have dramatically increased life expectancies.

The world waits eagerly for more discoveries, including a cure for AIDS, cancer and countless other disorders that affect the human anatomy.

Research continues to give hope to millions everywhere who suffer from ailments currently categorised as incurable.

However, recent trends in medical research have raised some disturbing questions about where these studies are headed. Research institutes in the West compete so intensely to claim new discoveries that their studies are veering from steadfastly held ethical principles of the past.

Since many of these discoveries are bound to turn into multi-billion ringgit business ventures, national leaders have begun to waver in their stand.  It is sad to note that last week British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to wade into the ethical minefield of genetic research by vowing to push for Britain to become Europe's leader in the field.  He announced that there were massive potential benefits of research into stem cells - master cells that can generate most of the 200 cell types in the human body and vowed that his government would invest more in biotechnology research.

His support for biotechnology - which involves cloning and research on human embryos - is sure to draw an angry response from pro-life groups and fuel an ethical debate over how far scientists should interfere with nature. While no one would want to stand in the way of scientific progress, the question whether this includes allowing scientists to create cells and life-forms by manipulating genes is bound to be raised.

Since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned, there has been a clamour to clone anything that walks on four feet and, before long, the scalpels were prodding cells out of primates. There has also been a recent report that British fertility experts have developed controversial tests which could help create the "perfect baby". Even embryos which could grow into healthy infants may be discarded due to tiny imperfections because of the breakthrough. The technique is aimed at improving the high failure rate of IVF treatment for infertile couples and involves screening out and discarding Down's Syndrome embryos and others with abnormalities that cause pregnancy failures and miscarriages.

One wonders whether the scenario presented by Hollywood in Gattaca or even the Island of Dr Moreau will soon be a reality where genetic research would begin to focus on creating perfect humans or even people in possession of animal features.

These questions should not be left to a handful of leaders or a group of scientists who could be influenced by money, fame and other considerations. Many of these research laboratories are more than happy to crow about their success at medical conferences even on live television, but seldom are there any revelations on the rate of failure, especially the destruction of life forms which do not meet the required standards.

Dolly's creators started with 277 reconstructed eggs. The 29 embryos that appeared to develop normally were implanted in 13 sheep. Dolly was the only success, an achievement rate far below one per cent.

Work to clone monkeys being carried out in laboratories all over Europe and North America has so far been a failure, but there have been no reports of how far the research had gone before the materials were destroyed. With millions of ringgit being spent on such research and the price of the company's stock dependent on the success rate of these studies, it is hardly ever that the failures are made known.

The lack of enforcement authorities also raises the question of whether the so-called stringent regulations imposed on such research are ever adhered to and whether what really happens in the laboratories are closely monitored.  Nations without such research capabilities - which far outnumber those who do - do not seem to have a say on this question and this is an anomaly which needs to be rectified.

Any research which could change the face of the world - whether creating perfect babies or artificial life forms - should have the inputs of other nations.  International organisations such the World Health Organisation, the United Nations or other bodies should seriously consider discussing the issue and if necessary establish a monitoring authority to ensure such research is not abused. Furthermore, the views of other nations should be taken into account on this serious matter of altering nature's way of bringing life to this planet.

[Entered November 20, 2000]
 
 

 

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