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Bush administration was 'backward looking': Blackburn

Satyen Mohapatra speaks to Professor of Biology and Physiology at University of California, Elizabeth H. Blackburn on highly politically sensitive issues like cloning, stem cell research and enhancement.

delhi Updated: Feb 12, 2009 22:23 IST
Satyen Mohapatra
Satyen Mohapatra
Hindustan Times

Professor of Biology and Physiology at University of California, Elizabeth H. Blackburn had stood fearlessly against Bush administration as a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics urging them not to “distort scientific facts”. She was dismissed from the Council.

Time Magazine featured her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2007.

Today in an exclusive interview to the Hindustan Times she said, “I had no illusions that decisions of Bush administration will very politically influenced. But what disillusioned me more was that science was being presented in way to suit the Administration. Science should be accurate, what one does with it - can be politically motivated.”

Dealing with reports on highly politically sensitive issues like cloning, stem cell research and enhancement (like increasing life span) she said, “Bush administration was ‘backward looking’ influenced by certain religious views and wanted no research in these areas.”

She found the chairman of the Bio ethics Council being “biased towards the Administration,” differing from her view as a scientist who based her report on the best assessment of scientific facts which favoured research in cloning, stem cell research, enhancement.”

“Cloning for human babies may be man’s idea but cloning for making stem cells from embryos discarded by in vitro fertilization is not wrong, it does not hurt anyone. If pencils can be used to poke one’s eye we cannot say ban pencils, we must regulate the use of pencils,” she said.

While she could file a Minority Report with a differing view for the report on Cloning, when it came to Stem Cell her report was not published officially and she was dismissed. “ They did not suppress my report which I later published outside at a University publication.”

Calling Obama a “sensible” and “enlightened” person she said Obama has already said science policy should be based on “good informed” policy.

Elizabeth Blackburn is in India to deliver three lectures at Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi, on “Chromosome ends and human health and disease,” in a distinguished Lectureship Series co sponsored by Cell Press an imprint of Elsevier, and TNQ Books and Journals. Her Delhi lecture is scheduled for tomorrow.

A former president of the American Society for Cell Biology, Elizabeth Blackburn in the mid 1980s discovered ‘telomer’ special DNAs and proteins at each end of the chromosome which act as protective caps for the vital genetic material.In 1984 she alongwith her Ph.D student Carol Greider also discovered the enzyme telomerase.

The importance of telomers was found to be that if these protective caps wore down then cells started wearing down.

It was also found that if the cells don’t have enough of the enzyme telomerase self renewal of cells did not place and new tissues were not made.

“For reasons no one understands cells have very sparse amount of telomerase. However the amount varies from persons to person and even in individuals its quantum keeps varying,” she said.

Preliminary studies are showing ,she said,that low quantum of telomerase is related to greater risk of age related diseases like cardio vascular diseases, cancer, diabetes.

Telomerase production is also seen to drop with chronic life stress, she said.

A Lancet pilot study has also shown that healthy life style not only reduces risk of cardio vascular disease but increases quantum of telomerase, she added.

First Published: Feb 12, 2009 22:06 IST