Letter: Genome mysteries

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The Independent Culture
Sir: As a geneticist, I welcome the publication of the DNA sequence of human chromosome 22 and look forward to the time when the complete human genome sequence is available to all scientists. However, Steve Connor's statement that an extraterrestrial civilisation would need little more than this information to make a human being is misleading ("The secret of life", 1 December).

For aliens to produce the equivalent of a fertilised human egg they would also have to know the precise way in which this DNA sequence is modified and packaged. They would need a detailed knowledge of the intricate architecture and complex chemical composition of the egg cell. They would also require an appreciation of the environmental conditions required for correct development of the embryo and for survival of the adult. And to produce a being that we would recognise as human, they would need a good description of the types of social interactions required to develop the human mind.

These topics have been the subjects of human investigation for millennia with no immediate prospect of resolution.

Whilst the characterisation of the human genome is clearly an awesome achievement, championing the omnipotence of DNA sequence can only lead to a belief in genetic determinism and raise the possibility of a new age of genetic discrimination.

Dr SIMON COLLIER

School of Biological Sciences

University of Liverpool

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