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March 03, 2003


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by James Watson and Frances Crick. An exhibit has recently been launched here at the New York Public Library. As reported in New Scientist, in a documentary that will be airing in the UK, Watson says that molecular biologists should devise screening tests and gene therapies to address the problem. "If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease," says Watson. Naturally, these remarks have not gone unnoticed in the scientific community.

Yours, &c., LC | 12:01 PM | | Comments (1)

Comments 6/10/03

Stupidity should be cured Watson
By Richard Ingham

The 50th anniversary of the unveiling of DNA was marked by
controversy on Friday after the scientist who co-discovered
the "molecule of life" said he backed genetic manipulation
to make people more intelligent and better-looking.
75-year-old James Watson, the American biologist who in
1953 shook the world when he co-discovered DNA's structure
with Britain's Francis Crick, said he saw stupidity as a genetic
disease that should be cured.
"If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease," he was
quoted by The Times of London as saying. "The lower 10
percent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school,
what's the cause of it?
"A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.'
It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent."
Molecular biologists have a duty to identity the genes that
affect low intelligence and to develop gene therapies or pre-natal
screening tests to prevent it, Watson said.
"It seems unfair that some people don't get the same opportunity.
Once you have a way in which you can improve our children,
no one can stop it. It would be stupid not to use it, because
someone else will.
"Those parents who enhance their children,
then their children are going to be the ones who dominate the world."
Watson added that he also supported genetic engineering to enhance
people's looks. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty.
I think it would be great."
Watson made the remarks in an upcoming documentary, due to be
screened by Britain's Channel 4 television on March 8, The Times said.
Other experts were aghast, respectful of Watson's reputation but
eyeing the risk that gene research could be plunged into a fresh
storm about eugenics the Orwellian pseudo-science about selective
breeding of humans to "improve" the species.
Tom Shakespeare, a bio-ethicist at Britain's University of Newcastle,
said Watson "is talking about altering something that most people see
as part of normal human variation, and that I think is wrong."
"(...) I am afraid he may have done more harm than good, his
leadership of the Human Genome Project and his discovery of 1953
"We are opposed to the eugenics element of the argument,
but in terms of carrying out research for a gene that identifies
intelligence, and which can help people, that is something we
would support," a spokesman for the British Medical Association
(BMA) told AFP.
John Sulston, a British genetic professor who was co-winner
of the 2002 Nobel Medicine Prize, said Watson was exploring
an "extremely dangerous area" but had not been wrong to speak out.
"It is foolish put our heads in the sand," he said, referring to
the lure that human genetic engineering, however abhorrent, would have for some.
Watson is president of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory
in New York and helped launch the Human Genome Project,
the international effort to map mankind's genetic code.
A draft of the genome was unveiled in 2000.
DNA is the inherited template for life a molecule that lies
at the heart of a cell's nucleus which provides the code for building,
repairing and destroying tissue. It has a structure of a double helix,
joined by chemical rungs called bases. It was that fundamental structure
which Watson and Crick cracked on February 28, 1953.
They published their discovery in the British journal Nature two
months later, setting down the foundations of genetic science today.
From it have flowed ground-breaking innovations in pharmaceutics;
DNA fingerprinting; diagnostic tools to determine susceptibility to
inherited disease; and therapies, still in their earliest experimental
stages, to use stem cells and replacement genes to reverse a disorder.
But there have also been fierce ethical storms about potential misuse,
notably about the safety of genetically modified crops and farm animals
and the perils of human cloning.
As for a gene or genes for "intelligence," that is an idea that divides opinion.
Experts say social factors, such as schooling and family upbringing,
clearly play a big but still unclear role in smartness, and in any case
it could be dangerous or even impossible to implant an "intelligence"
gene, even if one were identified.
Watson and Crick won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with a
third associate, Maurice Wilkins.

Posted by: Tim at October 6, 2003 06:08 PM