LETTER: Genetic engineering is too risky to pursue

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THE agrichemicals group Zeneca may be saving our bananas but what is it doing to our planet ("Zeneca acts to save our favourite banana", Business, 16 April)?

The trend towards the increasingly rapid application of gene therapies and genetic engineering methods without proper consideration of their impact poses serious risks. The long-term and cumulative effects in any species lead to irreversible and highly unpredictable effects on the quality of life for the whole planet. An example is the use of a genetically engineered pumpkin recently planted by farmers in the United States. The pumpkin was so resistant to parasites that it soon spread to surrounding fields and became an intransigent weed.

Dr John Fagan, an internationally renowned DNA researcher from the US, recently gave back to the US National Institute of Health $613,882 of cash grants and withdrew proposals for a further $1.25m for DNA research. He was concerned that his research could lead to harmful genetic applications due to inadequate government control.

Changes introduced into germ cells are passed on to all future generations. Thus accidents and side-effects are perpetuated indefinitely. While the research itself may be safe, the basic information and techniques emerging could contribute to harmful genetic engineering applications.

Sarah Rees, Zeneca's project leader, says her company has the patent for this particular technology. Was she aware that on 1 March the European Parliament voted against allowing patents for biotechnological discoveries? Patent rights and the swift move from basic research to commercialisation sounds like putting profit before people.

The different organisms that populate the earth do not live in isolation. We do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions. Until we do we should not allow genetic technologies to be applied.

Paul Davis

Feckenham, Worcs

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