Ron Plasterk on Dangers in Genomics
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

Actually just recently I’ve been involved in the discussion in the Netherlands where— it’s a bit of a sideline but it is involved with genome research—the whole issue of DNA fingerprinting to recognize individuals has become a debate from an unexpected angle and that is from the angle that Dutch law now says that—if you do sperm donation, then the children have the right to trace their father later on. So that means actually that the number of sperm donors has dropped. People are willing to give sperm, like they’re willing to give blood [but] they don’t want 25 children in their front yard of their own family twenty-years later or fifty-years later.

I think there may be some issue there but it should be solved. I think it can be solved where if you get more and more people in the database for forensic reasons such as catching criminals, there is some concern that if then the law allows people to use that same database—allows people to force the police to give [them] this data for checking who their father is or their mother, that would cause a lot of unhappiness. It may be a detail, but I think that’s an important consequence of DNA research that you want to look at.

I think, in general, in this case, it is a sort of detail, precisely because I think in general there’s not so much of an issue. It’s like all science you can sometimes abuse it, but we have to use our minds and we’re in a democracy where politicians have to decide wisely on what is the legal and what is not the legal use of something, including genetics.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More Information: Wikipedia