Thursday, December 08, 2005

More animal testing

The BBC reports that there has been a rise this year in the number of animals used in experiments in the UK. There has been a large increase in the proportion of genetically modified animals (GM) used, with a fall in the use of non-GM animals.

A lot of these GM animals will have been modified to make them more prone to develop specific diseases such as cancer. This makes it easier to test potential cures for these diseases, particularly where a lot of animals would be needed to find a sufficient number that had the disease by chance. In these cases, using GM animals reduces the number of animals that need to be bred.

I don't think there's many research scientists who wouldn't agree that it would be better not to have to use animals at all. And people are working on alternatives – even with this increase we only use half the animals we did 30 years ago. But in the meantime there are still things we need animals for. And while we do, we should try and do what we can to make sure we use as few as possible.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What should we test for?

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is conducting a survey to see whether people think embryos should be tested for a wider range of conditions than they are currently.

At the moment, embryos obtained through IVF are tested for a small number of genes which give the child which has them an almost certain chance of developing certain currently incurable disorders, such as cystic fibrosis. The ideas under discussion would involve genes which give a predisposition to (not a certainly of developing) certain cancers, and/or diseases for which we do have cures.

Is it right to choose not to implant an embryo because it contains a gene that might (not will) cause it to develop a disease that might (not will) be incurable? On the other hand, if you're choosing one of a number generated by IVF anyway, doesn't it makes sense to give your child the best chance possible?

I've seen GATTACA. I know that a chance is not the same as a certainty. My biggest worry is, is it right to decide on matters of morality by public survey, as if it was some sort of popularity contest for ethical policy? On the other hand, is there any other way?

Nuclear power will be necessary

According to a new report from the UK Energy Research Centre, in 30 years' time we will be suffering from an energy shortfall. The only way to plug the gap is with nuclear power.

Is nuclear power the only way, or are there safer ways to generate electricity without increasing the amount of atmospheric pollution? And is nuclear power really that bad?