Newsnight celebrates 50 years of DNA
28 February 1953 scientists Jim Watson and Francis Crick raced into
a pub in Cambridge and announced to the startled regulars that they
had found "the secret of life". They had.
discovery of the structure of DNA has led to the bio-technology
industry, DNA fingerprinting, and soon, they believe, designer babies.
mark the 50th anniversary, BBC Newsnight has a half hour special
tonight (10.30pm, Thursday 27 February, BBC TWO).
Editor Susan Watts has talked to Jim Watson and the top scientists
in DNA research and asked them what DNA can tell us about ourselves
and our future.
Kirsty Wark discovers she may be a descendant of Viking clan mother
Kirsty Wark English?
tested Kirsty Wark's mitochondrial DNA to find where her mothers'
mothers' mother came from.
to Professor Brian Sykes, who analysed her DNA, 95% of European
women are descended from seven "daughters of Eve" who
lived more than 10,000 years ago.
Kirsty has a unique set of genetic mutations not previously seen
amongst the thousands of DNA samples Professor Sykes has on his
closest relatives are descended from another clan mother who lived
thousands of years ago, called Ulrike.
of Ulrike are particularly common in Scandinavia, Northern Germany
all along the North East Baltic coast and that part of Europe, so
if I was to hazard a guess about Kirsty's maternal ancestors from
this test I'd say they could possibly have come into Britain with
the Vikings," he told the programme.
Wark, who was delighted to find that her maternal ancestors were
not English, said: "For lots of people the drive to find out
where they came from is overwhelming ... it was fascinating to find
I may have a Viking link.
suppose this means I'm a bit of a warrior. Now I'll have to go back
and read the Sagas in a new light and see if I can trace any connection."
sex for fun
Verlinsky, the controversial IVF specialist who runs the groundbreaking
Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, has been accused of
creating "spare part" babies.
now tests IVF embryos - not just for cystic fibrosis but for 60
different diseases - and believes that if there is a probability
the child is likely to develop cancer in adulthood, the embryo should
not be implanted.
year most of his patients will be using IVF to select the best embryo,
rather than because of infertility.
believes this will soon be the normal way for people to have children
in Western societies, rather than through conventional sex.
on tonight's programme Verlinksy said: "Maybe a disease free
society is a possibility. I think people will recognise the tragedy
of genetic disease and how it can be avoided before they have children.
have children we're going to look for some technology. Leave sex
babies are inevitable
Science Editor Susan Watts went to see two of the DNA pioneers.
believe designer babies are now inevitable, but have different views
of how dangerous that might be.
Watson told us we have an obligation to add "good genes"
to embryos to help improve the physical or mental performance of
said: "I think you should go just as far as to get human beings
to have better lives. It can't be easy being born with a low IQ.
A lot of people take advantage of you and so anything which could
make people at the bottom of the genetic basket happier I think
would be wonderful."
scientist Ray Gosling said: "We will lurch from catastrophe
to catastrophe then, if we survive, obviously the race will have
benefited - it's quite possible we won't survive at all."
told the programme that, generally, he finds that people who object
to designer babies are those who already have "good genes".
find all this concern comes from people at the top who might feel
threatened if everyone were equal," he said.
I find a total lack of compassion in the people who have good genes
not to worry about those with bad. They just have no feeling for
the bottom. They've lived in a rarefied world and they haven't suffered."
believes much of the opposition is based on superstition.
think the real reason people are upset at the concept of designer
babies is they think there's some purpose to the whole thing and
they don't really see the inherent random nature of it," he
think even if you sort of intellectually accept the idea of evolution
I think it's not a complete acceptance.
like to think you're something better than a slightly intelligent
chimp, and so you know we're interfering with the desires of some
God like creature."
life from scratch
has also interviewed Craig Venter, the brilliant maverick scientist
who speeded up the decoding of the human genome by applying supercomputers
and a technique called "shotgun sequencing".
believes that 50 years from now we'll be able to create new life
forms from scratch which could be used to absorb carbon to slow
down global warming or split water into hydrogen and oxygen to create
a pollution-free hydrogen economy.
to Susan Watts, he said: "We're going to be able to design
specific species for specific purposes.
some time in the next 50 years I can envision a laboratory... if
I live that long, maybe it'll be mine... there could be 100,000
bottles each one having a different gene in it, that we could program
into the computer and select the properties we want in a bacteria
in a single-celled organism, that would enable it to perform the
chemistry that we want; whether it's capturing CO2, whether it's
producing hydrogen, whether it's producing a specific pharmaceutical,
whether it's producing a precursor to fabrics that the Du Ponts
of the world would be using; that's the future of chemistry."
to accusations that he wants to create life, he replied: "Well
I plead guilty - of course I do! I mean it's... to understand biology,
to really be able to put the components together, to come up with
an independent living cell, based on our knowledge of biology; I'm
sure I'm not the only biologist that would like to have that be
think what's different is we want to do it in a responsible way,
and we want to do it in a way that leads to major changes in society."
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