I'm a little behind watching the Charlie Rose series on PBS this past
week which dealt with genomics. Wednesday included an interview with
James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, who played a significant part in
getting the Human Genome Project going.
Watson is a colorful character (only 73 but looking a lot older to me).
He was more willing than the people on earlier in the show to take a
chance, make predictions and endorse unpopular views.
He believes and hopes that many forms of cancer will be curable within the
next decade. He said he hoped to see it within his lifetime. He feels
that we actually knew enough of the basic science of cancer in some sense,
that we have the big picture, but that there are a lot of little details
to be solved in order to come up with effective treatments with no side
Asked about "playing God" and such, Watson very reasonably pointed out
that the important issue is the ability to heal sick people, giving
the example of the Salk polio vaccine as a real "miracle". Asked point
blank, he stated that he did not believe in God, adding wryly that his
father had the same position and he had never departed from his family's
Watson said that misuse of the technology was not his main concern; he
was more worried about disuse. Presumably he was talking about people
refusing to use it due to various fears and worries.
Watson also endorsed the idea that people should be in control of the
information about their own genetic code, with women also having the
information about their unborn children. Government should neither
mandate nor forbid screening. The information should be available
and individuals should decide what to do with it. He emphasized the
importance of education so that people could make informed decisions.
A very refreshing attitude after the interview Tuesday with the religious
head of the HGP.
I wish Rose had asked Watson about cloning and germ line modifications.
It would be nice to have someone on this series who makes the case for
self-improvement, and Watson looks like the best chance so far.
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