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Controversies in Genetic Engineering.docx

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Natural Science
NATS 1760
Vera Pavri

March 6, 2012 C ONTROVERSIES IN G ENETIC E NGINEERING I. D ISCOVERING THE S TRUCTURE OF DNA:T HE D OUBLE H ELIX  The race to find the structure of DNA took place in the mid 20 century  After WWII, scientists were well aware that DNA is the key to understanding the secrets of human heredity. However, following WWII, the key question was how DNA looked like because no scientists could effectively work with DNA if they didn’t know the structure  As such following WWII, scientists who had spent much of their time involved in a project leading to human death and devastation, became interested in a project that was key to unlocking the secret to human life  “Race” to find structure of DNA – it was a race amongst scientists in the mid 20 century – scientists around the world were competing with one another, trying to be the first to uncover the secret of the structure of DNA. They did so knowing that if they were the first at the finish line, it would mean great reward for them (i.e., scientific prestige, enhanced reputation, their name would be written in the history books)  Many of the controversies came from the way in which scientists conducted themselves during this period of time – many ethical and moral questions will be raised  The race to find the structure of DNA is also a story that highlights the relationship between gender and science  It is Watson and Crick whose names are synonymous with finding the structure of DNA  Controversy surrounding the race: o Ethical and moral questions were raised o Issues related to gender and science – how difficult it was for females scientists to work in what was predominantly a male environment  1 Group to work on the DNA structure: Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins o Franklin went to work with Wilkins and their role was to try to find out what the structure of DNA looked like o From the very beginning, this was a problematic relationship. Almost from the start, they didn’t get along with each other because their personalities clashed. Franklin was very outgoing and forthright, whereas Wilkins did not like that so much, he was very laid back and uncomfortable with the way Franklin worked o Also, there were problems in terms of their research as well (e.g., when Franklin came to work in the University of London she assumed that there would be a partnership between her and Wilkins. Wilkins, however, was under the impression was going to be his assistant, thus causing problems  Rosalind Franklin specialized in a technique called X-ray crystallography, which entails taking images of DNA, and then attempt to determine its structure through an analysis of these pictures. The pictures are not clear-cut Polaroid pictures where the image itself would be obvious. Rather, these were blurred images where one would have to closely analyze and look for a structure that was still not well known  Problematic relationship: Franklin, using X-ray crystallography techniques had created two different sets of photographs (A and B). As such, she wanted to work on one set, while Wilkins wanted to work on the other  Problems with nature of Franklin’s work: Franklin often claimed that at the University of London, she was treated more like a technician, than an actual scientist. Recall: throughout most of history, 1 science had often been regarded as a more superior discipline than that of technology. Given Franklin’s work was more technical in nature, it should be no surprise that certain individuals tended to downplay this type of work  In addition, Franklin had many problems as a female scientist working in a predominantly male field – she worked at a university, which at this time, there were many male-only locations within the university setting (i.e., male-only dinning rooms and lounges). As such, Franklin was excluded for these participating in these particular domains o Significance: Recall that social spaces were places where researchers and scientists would come together to discuss and exchange ideas (both in formal and informal locations). As such, while Franklin might have had access to places such as laboratories, she did not have access to these more important social spaces were much collaboration would have taken place  2 Group: James Watson and Francis Crick – Crick came to Cambridge University interested in the area of physics, but came increasingly interested in the structure of DNA after being exposed to Watson’s work.  Their method was different – included a process of model building. Watson and Crick build 3-D models in hopes of getting to that all important answer of what DNA looked like.  They had a very good relationship with one another, but were behind in their research as opposed to other groups like Franklin and Wilkins  Crick and Watson, being in such close proximity to Franklin and Wilkins, got to know each other. While Franklin had a good relationship with Watson and Crick, Wilkins will become very good friends with them during this time. This relationship extended beyond their research (i.e., they’d go to pubs together etc.). Also it was not uncommon for these individuals to talk with each other about their research – in fact, it was Wilkins and Franklin who showed Watson and Crick some of the many errors that they had in terms of their initial models associated with the structure of DNA  Word came out in the U.S that Linus Pauling had come up with the actual answer. Because Pauling had such a good reputation in the field, when the initial news came out, there was a belief amongst many that the race was over. However, over time people realized that while Pauling was on the right track towards figuring out what DNA looked like, he had not come up with the right answer. o He suggested that the structure of DNA resembled a helix and this is what is going to get researchers on the right path  As this was happening, the relationship between Franklin and Wilkins continued to deteriorate. By this period of time, Franklin is ready to leave the University of London – she was going to leave to pursue research in another field altogether  Controversy surrounding ethics of research: o Franklin had created two sets of photographs. She was currently analyzing one set of photographs, but in the course of their research, Watson and Crick became interested in looking at Franklin’s other set of photographs o Wilkins, without telling Franklin, shows Watson and Crick her research – in other words, Watson and Crick were able to view Franklin’s work without her knowledge. This is crucial to the story because very shortly afterward it is Watson and Crick who will come up with the correct structure of DNA. They created a model which showed that DNA does not resemble a helix, as Pauling had suggested but rather a double helix (two ladders that are intertwined with one another)  This theory of DNA looking like a double helix proves to be correct  Watson and Crick published their findings in one of the most prestigious journals called Nature in 1953, and about a decade later, they were given a Nobel Prize, and it was shared with Wilkins, but not by Franklin (by this time she had passed away) 2  There is controversy surrounding whether or not Franklin would have been given credit at all for her contributions  E.g., when Watson and Crick were asked if Franklin’s photograph had played a role in their discovery, they for many years, minimized her contribution. The held that the photograph confirmed what they already knew. However, anyone looking at the second set of photographs was likely to see the structure of DNA as a double helix, therefore, if Franklin had gotten around to analyzing the second set of photographs, perhaps she would have made this discovery before Watson and Crick  There is much debate as to Rosalind’s feelings during this time. Some historians suggest that Franklin was extremely bitter about the way in which her work was used without her knowledge, others argue that Rosalind couldn’t care less what Watson and Crick did with her work since she was already interested in pursuing other scientific fields during this time  Rosalind’s name had been eliminated from the discussion of the structure of DNA  Issues of gender: one of the reasons why it will take so long for Rosalind’s work to be acknowledged was in large part due to the work of James Watson  After receiving credit for the discovery of DNA, Watson wrote a famous book called The Double Helix– a small publication for the public to get a greater understanding of the process of this all- important discovery o In this book, we see an unfair representation of Rosalind Franklin  Throughout the entire book, he refers to Rosalind as “Rosie”. He talks about Franklin as a “belligerent” woman who could not keep her emotions under control and who did not know how to interpret her own data  He talked about her as Wilkins’ assistant – incapable and unworthy of Nobel prize- caliber work - given that this book was widely read in relation to the discovery, Franklin’s contributions were minimized for so long.  In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that feminist historians of took a much closer look at what Franklin had done during this time  When we talk about the race to find the structure of DNA, we can see there are many problems – whether or not they gave her enough credit where credit was due II. T HE H UMAN GENOME P ROJECT (HGP)  After the discovery of DNA, the next logical step had been for scientists to find out what DNA looked like. So, when that was confirmed, scientists and researchers became interested in how to control and manipulate DNA – this became a major area for scientists in the late 50s, 60s and 70s,  By the early 1970s, scientists were able to successfully manipulate DNA cell structure – this meant manipulating animal and plant DNA as well. This led to new techniques associated with the manipulation od DNA including a new technique during this period of time called genetic cloning o E.g., Human hormone – today, genetic cloning is not just about human hormones, but also about the cloning of species as well (plants, animals and humans)  This began to gain popularity during the 1980s  Office of Heath and Environmental Research in the U.S and the U.S Department of energy were interested in mapping the human genome – why was the U.S Department of energy interested?  In the 1980s, the U.S Department of Energy had a number of genetic researchers working for this particular organization. Many geneticists were working for this department because during the 60s, 70s and 80s, the U.S was at the height of cold war tensions with the Soviet Union. One of the U.S’s biggest fears was the atomic bomb, thereby the U.S Department of Energy had hired many genetic researchers to look into questions involving the effects of radiation on the human body  During the 1980s, the effects of the Cold War are dying out, therefore the idea of mapping the human genome represented a new project for these geneticists to be involved in 3  Over time, more groups are going to involved in this project – including groups and institutions like the University of California – one led by James Watson  As the idea about mapping the entire list of DNA basis in human chromosomes will now become a major issue o There was this idea that a massive project would involve mapping 3 B bases – which was an average cost of $10/base  When we talk about a project with this kind of size and scale, we’re talking about a modern-day example of a “big science” project – a project that involves a large number of both human and financial resources. It is therefore no coincidence that this project was labeled by many scientists who wanted funding as the “Manhattan Project” of biology  Calling the HGP the Manhattan project of biology was a deliberate term. The wanted to compare their work to the Manhattan Project for several reasons: 1. Importance of the project itself and the impact that the kind of result would have on the entire world 2. The Manhattan project had produced something concrete – the atomic bombs – it was not only the biggest of all big science projects in history, but also the most successful. Therefore, it make perfect sense that researchers would want to compare their potential projects to the one project in history that had produced such concrete results  Human Genome Organization – an organization that was directly associated with the HGP  The project itself will fully begin in 1988  Initially it was considered a long-term big science project and it was estimated that the idea of mapping the human genome would take about 15 years to complete. Initially, there was the belief that during the first 5 years alone, $200 M alone would be needed per year  HGP involved mapping and sequencing the entire genetic code of human beings.  Goals of HGP: 1. Identifying the 20, 000 – 25, 000 genes in human DNA 2. Determine sequence of the 3 B bases that make up human beings 3. Desire to store information into databases 4. Improve the technology associated with the research 5. Transfer information to the public sector  Link to Manhattan Project: from the beginning the HGP gave 3% of all its funds into examining the social, legal and ethical implications of this work. Recall: with the Manhattan Project, there was the decision to drop the atomic bomb with little to no consideration to the long-term implications. The moral/ethical questions were only raised after the bombs themselves had been dropped. In the case of the HGP, there was a realization from the beginning that this type of research will provide all types of controversy, therefore money was allotted to research the social impacts of the HGP research on society  This was a successful project in that overtime, costs were reduced thanks to advancement in technology. Overtime, costs were reduced to 10 cents/base (from $10)  By 1999, 1 B bases had already been sequenced, and entire rough draft of the genome was completed in 2001 and the entire map has been completed today  Management and control – one of the big issues surrounding HGP had to do with the idea of patenting this information. The HGP organization was a public organization, but at this time there were also private organizations doing the same kind of research – companies who were interested in not only using the data, but also patenting it for their own purposes  The whole idea of patenting information that came out of the HGP raised a great deal of controversy. In the 1990s under the Clinton administration, the U.S government decided to 4 prevent many companies from patenting the information that came out of this research. This was a huge blow to companies who had been banking on patenting their results for future profit  The whole idea of patenting this information leads to an issue still concerning us today – the idea of whether or not companies should be able to patent genes as a whole. Today, companies can in fact patent genes. It’s not the gene itself that’s considered unique to warrant a patent, but the processes the company will undertake to get the information related to the gene in question is what allows them to patent the gene itself  The idea of patenting genes has become very controversial – especially with issues of management and control o E.g., one of the biggest controversies has been the ability of an American company who was able to patent a gene relating to detect breast cancer. This gene, which was patented, made it difficult for women to get tested in relation to finding out whether or not they were susceptible to breast cancer because they were not able to do testing if it was not in connection to the company in question  The unfairness of a company being able to patent a gene has led to a reversal of many of the recent decisions within the U.S court system  In fact, recent U.S court decisions (past year) have reversed initial decisions, which allow companies to patent genes in the first place – this is an issue that is seen as a reversal in trend. th What was once allowed throughout the first decade of the 20 century is becoming more difficult to do over time III. L EGAL ISSUES SURROUNDING G ENETIC R ESEARCH  These two decisions are precedent-setting decisions – decisions that had an impact on future decisions  These two U.S Supreme Court decisions not only had an impact within that country, b
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