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Monday, 29 May, 2000, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Call for ban on GM humans

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The genetic modification of human beings should be banned until more is known about the science, according to a leading genetic scientist.

Eric Lander, who is director of the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said there was nothing stopping scientists experimenting but he would be "appalled" if they did.



I would be appalled to wake up and find that someone had produced the first genetically-modified child

Professor Eric Lander

During a lecture, sponsored by Nature magazine, at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Powys, mid-Wales, he said the ban need not necessarily be permanent.

But, he said, it should be kept in place until more is known about what is involved.

"At present there is nothing stopping anyone from doing this type of thing," he said.

"But I would be appalled to wake up and find that someone had produced the first genetically-modified child.

"We should ban the genetic modification of humans for now, with the understanding that we would still be able to come back to the issue later."

Human Genome Project

Professor Lander - whose institute has been responsible for 30% of the results in the Human Genome Project which is studying the genetic make-up of human beings - said the first draft of the human genome sequence would be published this autumn.

The project, he added, was the biological equivalent of the chemical table of elements.

"Just as the table of elements completely changed our understanding of chemistry, when you know all the components (of the human genome) and the complex relationships between them, it changes everything," he explained.

Mr Lander said explained that the "revolution" in the understanding of biological processes resulting from the project was already being used in world-wide laboratories every day.

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