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Can we beat Thomas Malthus?


Legalising the production of stem cells from embryos
Aaron Klug Scientist
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Towards the end... towards '99, there was a movement to say that stem cells are going to be important, and stem cells would be made. To make stem cells, embryonic stem cells from out of the stem cells, you have to make them from early embryos, from very early embryos, well before 14 days. After two or three days we used to have the blastocyt stage where they are in a cell mass. This is standard embryology which actually I had learnt as a medical student, and from... in a cell mass you can derive cells which all look like each other and which pluripotent, if not totipotent, that is they can turn into any other cell. And so, we were able to get the legislation through because of the Act which allowed experiments in embryos up to 14 days. So towards the end of 2000, I wrote to every member of the House of Commons, I wrote in my official capacity, and we organised some teach-ins in the House of Commons, invited the Lords as well, and so the legislation went through that following year. So this was the first country to legalise the production of embryonic stem cells from embryos, and so the research is permitted. And now that people have licences for it, I think it... I think it illustrates again that this... there was ten years between the Human Fertilisation Embryo Act which set up a committee and this, so you see it takes a long time. It reminds me of global warming which took over ten years to get people moving. So society changes, and changes very slowly. Well, at least on these levels it changes... there are obviously other things that change society, rock groups, mini-skirts, all those kind of things, but I'm talking about issues of... well, I don't know if they are more important, but issues of a different kind of importance.

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: Human Fertilisation Embryo Act

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008