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In the wake of concern raised about the ethics and risks of performing genetic interventions in macaque monkeys to study models of human neuropsychiatric conditions, Professor Andrew Parker analyses how decision makers evaluate these situations and highlights the ethical consequences if research is not carried out.

As Darwin identified, genetic modification defines who and what we are biologically. In recent years, the technology of molecular biology has brought genetic modification under direct experimental control. We no longer have to wait for selective breeding to bring about changes in the genomes of ourselves or other organisms.

Andrew ParkerWhilst many experimental and translational programmes of research have employed this new technology, there was an unusual degree of outcry when a number of Chinese scientists successfully made somatic cell interventions in macaque monkeys. The technology is very similar to that used widely in DPAG for interventions in mice and flies.

In a new article, Professor Andrew Parker attempts to analyse some of the reasons why there was this degree of protest. In doing so, he also seeks to probe the ethical basis of judgements made by regulatory authorities. "I suggest there are fundamental weaknesses in the so-called “precautionary principle”, which is often advanced to justify the actions of review panels and administrative authorities." (Prof Parker).

"The ethical cost of doing nothing" is available to read in the National Science Review.