Aaron Klug on The Application and Ethics of Genomics
  Aaron Klug     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jun 2005

It seems to be an essential piece of knowledge. Of course, many other genomes as well. I always thought that we should do other genomes as well. But the nematode—John Sulston—was the first complex organism to have its sequence determined. So John Sulston, it was the map and then there was the—they also did do the cDNAS. They did the whole genome sequence as well.

You see, the methods of working out where the introns were and the exons and all that, so all the know-how was developed on the nematode. That was the important thing was to—what you learn in this country is you don’t wait for—you may think that Britain is a bit backward, but on the whole they’re pretty good at improvisation. Just doing what you can with what you have and building it up as you go along.

No, well I think that Jim Watson has written a great deal about that. I don’t think that knowing the sequence doesn’t mean that you’re going to—well, you should be able to—I mean it will tell you about inherited disease and things of that sort if you have. But once you have—you don’t have to have the human genome sequenced to know about various genetic defects. They’ve been known for a long time. Sickle cell hemoglobin. The gene defect was discovered many years ago.

The ethical implications of that are if you have a fetus with a sickle cell in the gene, should you terminate it? That’s nothing to do with the total human genome sequence because people find the functions of the genes. There are issues. But you know in Cyprus, for example, where they’ve got thalassemia, David Wetherall, who is a professor at Oxford, a very, very distinguished medical researcher managed, he studies thalassemia and he’s managed in Cyprus, they managed to sequence all people getting married to see what genes they have. Because you get the beta and alpha thalassemia which are like sickle cell; it’s against malaria like sickle cell.

There are two ways of defending against malaria. One is to have the sickle cell trait and that’s mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia. But in the Mediterranean countries, people have thalassemia who have a simple defect. It protects you against malaria. But of course if both genes, both the mother, the maternal and the parental genes are affected then you have a full disease and then you really are crippled. So they do prenatal diagnosis and abortion. Although the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus is greatly against abortion, they tolerate it. So they are gradually wiping out thalassemia in Cyprus.

Aaron Klug is chemist and biophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. After completing his BSc at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, he attended the University of Cape Town on scholarship where he received M.Sc. degree. In 1949 he moved to Cambridge in England, he studied molecular structure of steel and wrote a thesis on the changes that occur when molten steel solidifies, for which he earned Ph.D. in 1952.

In 1953 he obtained a fellowship to work at Birkbeck Collage in London, where he met Rosalind Franklin. They worked together to determine the structural nature of the tobacco mosaic virus. After Franklin's death in 1958 he continued his work on viruses together with Kenneth Holmes and John Finch. In 1962 he accepted a position at Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

His major contribution to scientific research was the development of crystallography electron microscopy for which he was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

More Information: Wikipedia, Nobelprize.org