Leader comment: Clarity needed on gene science

The Norrie Russell Roslin Institute has revealed they have created  a group of genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds and are helping scientists set up a "frozen aviary" to conserve rare and exotic birds.
The Norrie Russell Roslin Institute has revealed they have created a group of genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds and are helping scientists set up a "frozen aviary" to conserve rare and exotic birds.
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The uses to which genetic modification can be put seem almost limitless. Today we report on Scottish scientists who are using genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds to create a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare and exotic birds.

The team from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute say it acts like a seed bank for poultry, and will be used to preserve rare chicken breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality.

But this type of science in all fields is not without controversy. Recently the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority gave the go-ahead for clinics to apply to create three parent babies. The approved technique allows doctors to replace an egg’s defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from a female donor to prevent children suffering debilitating conditions such as muscular dystrophy. It was described as opening the way for designer babies.

And the Scottish Government is opposed to the cultivation of GM crops in this country saying they could “damage Scotland’s rich environment and would threaten our reputation for producing high quality and natural foods”.

It is clear that genetic modification holds out the promise of massive advantages in many fields. It is also clear that there are deep-seated concerns about some possible unforeseen side-effects. But it seems that the opportunities might be sliding by while the debate and the opening up of information simply is not happening. The potentials around this new science are so vast that the debate really does need to be front and centre.