Helen Wallace: Can we really justify this disturbing kind of research?


In a world where 1 billion people are overweight, research on energy metabolism in mice will not address the social and economic issues behind the current epidemic of obesity. If the aim of this – or future – research is to create a new breed of "super humans", this is disturbing in itself. Although it is questionable whether the production of genetically modified humans will ever be technically achievable, any attempt would involve completely unjustifiable and dangerous experiments on mothers and their babies.

The concept of "enhancing" humans by genetic engineering is very far from reality, but increasingly medication, including new biomedicines, is focused on human enhancement rather than medical need. The issue of research priorities is a deeply ethical one, in a world where many diseases are neglected and people cannot get the medicines they need.

The creation of these so-called "mighty mice" is also hard to justify ethically, since there is no obvious need for the suffering inflicted on these animals. GM and cloning techniques are very inefficient, and many animals suffer unintended side effects including abortion, premature death and infertility, or are discarded as "failures".

More broadly, excitement about genetics is leading to a vast increase in the number of animals modified to have painful and distressing diseases. In Britain, more than a million genetically modified animals – the vast majority of them mice – were used in experiments in 2006. This is more than four times as many as were used in 1995, and such experiments are expected to increase rapidly in future years. Worldwide, dogs, cats, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, monkeys, quail, chickens, fish and insects have all been genetically modified or cloned.

For many applications, such as agriculture and drug production, there are safer and more humane alternatives. Although most research on GM and cloned animals is argued to be justified on medical grounds, there is no public information on who is allowed to do what, where and why. The "mighty mice" experiment adds to this list the additional questionable aim of tinkering with energy metabolism and enhancing athletic performance.

GeneWatch believes that there is simply no justification for the genetic modification and cloning of animals for use as pets, in agriculture, as drug factories, for organ production or to undertake experiments with no obvious benefit beyond the curiosity of researchers. An independent inquiry into the use of GM and cloned animals in research is needed.

The writer is director of GeneWatch UK

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific