Letter: Twins take terror out of clone debate

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Sir: The excitement over Dolly ("The spectre of a human clone", 26 February) may have obscured the real significance of her creation. Joseph Rotblat's warning reminds us that she is a harbinger of a technological future that is deeply uncertain.

Concerned scientists who first warned of the perils of "the atomic bomb" did not need to predict in detail that their devices of a few kilotons delivered by airplane would soon be replaced by multi-megaton bombs delivered by intercontinental guided missiles. It was enough for them to know in general that the technologies would inevitably advance, with potentially limitless effects.

Similarly, Dolly is a symbol of the accelerating advance of biotechnology, now synergising with information technology (and perhaps soon with nanotechnology as well), reminding us how yesterday's implausibilities become today's discoveries and tomorrow's routine.

The difference from the Bomb is that the problem of societal control is now far more complex. Atomic (and then nuclear) weapons, however menacing, were at least confined to warfare. But genetic engineering is everywhere, merging and blending with other technologies, and promising immediate benefits along with possible dangers.

There is no well-defined object to "ban"; rather we will need a continuous process of monitoring, debate and decision, both national and international.

JULIE SHEPPARD

The Genetics Forum

London EC2

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