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Scientists and social responsibility


Is Lion DNA more dangerous than pussycat DNA?
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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In America they'd become very anxious in getting a licence to do this work, so they would settle on anything as long as they got a licence. So we... so an enormous system of categories got invented, and which had been worked out by scientists and which was ludicrous because the dangers  — and all the dangers were conjectural, that is you thought they were dangers — were dependent on where the DNA came from, all right. So, clearly malaria is a dangerous disease. Therefore they said if you clone malaria you have to do this under a high category, without taking into consideration what it would take to reconstitute malaria from its component DNA molecules. On that grounds, you see, you would have to clone lion DNA at a much higher category than, say, pussy cat DNA, because clearly lions are more dangerous than pussy cats. And so this kind of uncanny never-neverland which... which just made no sense of anything became the way in which one did these experiments over the next few years.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Duration: 1 minute, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010