Nobelist Speaks Out on Genetic Modification, Synthetic Biology, Stem Cell Research
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, May 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Sir Richard Roberts, the eminent British biologist and Nobel Prize laureate, said today European opposition to genetically modified organisms is political rather than scientific in nature.
He also said "personal medicine" based on human genome research holds large-scale promise to improve the health of the world's people on an individualized basis.
Roberts, who won the Nobel in 1993 for his shared discovery of split genes, made his remarks at the Astana Economic Forum, a global conference of scientists, academics, multinational executives and government leaders.
"On a political level, governments must embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and not give way to European prophets of doom, who oppose the use of GMOs for purely political reasons," said Roberts. "It is important to note there is a complete absence of evidence that GMOs can cause any harm. Indeed to any well-informed scientist, traditionally bred plants seem much more likely to be harmful than GMOs."
Roberts predicted growing knowledge of the human genome will yield better medical treatments and diagnostics. "It is just as important that we learn more about the bacteria that colonize our bodies since they are an essential part of what it means to be human," he said.
He also predicated synthetic biology will enable scientists to build novel microorganisms from "scratch."
"Most exciting is the promise of stem cells where the challenge is to understand how they drive their differentiation into all of the other cell types in our bodies," Roberts said. "While I do not advocate prolonging life indefinitely, I am very much in favor of ensuring that as we age, the quality of our life does not diminish."
The annual Astana Economic Forum this year has drawn thousands of participants from more than 80 nations to this rapidly growing Central Asian nation. There has been much focus at the current sessions on the Greek financial crisis and turbulence in the Euro currency, in addition to the broader economic, scientific and international trade issues that are a traditional mainstay at Astana.
Deal making is a big part of both the official and the unofficial agenda at Astana. Multinationals represented include Chevron, Toyota, Nestle, Microsoft, BASF, Total, General Electric.
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