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Legalising the production of stem cells from embryos


What does a 14-day human embryo look like?
Aaron Klug Scientist
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The debates we had at the Royal Society which we asked to... As I said, we were sometimes asked to pronounce on these things. This time we were asked: what was the scientific view? Well, Anne McLaren suggested that you should allow experiments on embryos, and cut off at 14 days because that's when the primitive streak appeared, and that is the first time you have a nervous system, the beginning of a nervous system. So since the biology of the day, since the teachings that meant that nothing before 14 days was anything resembling a... it was a living entity all right, but it didn't have any kind of nervous system, so it couldn't think, it couldn't feel pain, it couldn't do anything of that sort. And I made one small contribution... I was a preferer of Council. I said... now the Royal Society statements were always just typed, and I said, 'Why don't we have a picture?' Never been done before, a picture of the 14-day embryo, and what it is, it looks like a tiny little worm with a line down the middle. And it looks like nothing at all. And so, we actually did a hand drawing, Anne drew it at the end of the paper, and this went to Parliament, to the House of Lords. I think it was an eye-opener to most people who had never done embryology. They really thought... you know, they think there's a little homunculi, they thought that you form a... everything just grows, you see. Well, of course, they should have known better, because even a plant changes with... a plant when it grows, well they've seen that, and of course the farmers and the people with animals would have known this if you have abortions and so on. But the general public didn't know all this.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: The Royal Society, Anne McLaren

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008