John Denney 28 JUNE 2000


Monday 26th June 2000 is one of the great days in human achievement.  It was described as a “hinge of history”.  It was the day when the first draft of the human genome was published.  The DNA that we have in almost every cell in our body is made up of a coiled up ladder with three billion rungs.  And each rung is made up of just four basic chemicals known as A, T, C and G.  And because scientists have worked out the long list of rungs on the DNA ladder, great things are being predicted.


They’re talking about the cure for all sorts of diseases and conditions like cancer and diabetes and Down’s syndrome and many more. They’re talking about being able to grow spare parts for your body when they’ve worn out or been damaged.


But can I chuck a little cold water on the hype surrounding this great achievement?  Once they’ve finalised the map, where are we going, and how long is it going to take?  William Harvey demonstrated how the heart worked in 1628, but it wasn’t until 1963, 335 years later, that the first heart transplant took place.  So it may be a long time before we start to feel any benefits from genome research.


And given that human nature is what it is, how long will it be before some parents start asking for gene therapy to turn their children into beautiful, athletic geniuses?  Although we might yearn for a bit of genetic manipulation so that England can produce a sportsman who can actually win something, there is a real worry that unscrupulous people will misuse this information.  We desperately need a code of ethics to control what we do with this new knowledge.


But the biggest objection is this: the scientists haven’t mapped me.  They might know which sequence of genes produces my eye colour, which my height, which my balding pate.  But even with three billion genes to call on, they don’t begin to describe the real me, or the real you.  Christians understand that we have a soul, and it can’t be broken down into a code.  Because that soul, which defines our individuality, our personality, the characteristics that are unique to each one of us, that soul is breathed into us by God.  King David had a real insight in one of his Psalms: O Lord… you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. [Ps 139: 13-14]


So, goodbye from me, John Denney, or perhaps you’ll know me better as {FADE OUT} ATCG TAGC GTAC CATG CTGA GACT TACG …..


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