Opponents of Genetic Engineering
of animals and plants had been cautiously optimistic about the chances
of Switzerland becoming the first nation to pass a referendum banning
genetic engineering. Instead more than 65 percent of Swiss citizens voted
no on the proposed constitutional change, sending it down to a huge defeat.
Switzerland is home to close to
200 firms that conduct genetic research, including pharmaceutical giants
Novartis and Roche who aggressively opposed the proposed ban.
“Swiss oppose ban on genetic research and production,” Nando.net,
June 7, 1998.
“Swiss voters reject curbs on genetic engineering,” CNN, June 7, 1998.
Researchers at the University of
Michigan Medical School recently accomplished the first permanent correction
of a deafness-related genetic mutation. The experiment was performed with shaker-2
mice — a strain of mice born that is born deaf due to genetic defects.
Scientists used a Genetic Engineering technology
to first locate the gene responsible for the deafness and then injected
short sections of normal cloned DNA into fertilized mouse eggs. On June
23, 1997 the first shaker-2 mouse without the genetic defects was born.
The results were reported in the May 29, 1998 issue of Science.
The discovery of the defective
gene in mice quickly led researchers to find a nearly identical gene in
human beings that may be responsible for some cases of congenital deafness
in human beings.
“Interaction between scientists
working with the mouse genome and the human genome made it possible to
locate these genes so quickly,” said Sally A. Camper, associate professor
of human genetics at the U-M Medical School. “Its a perfect
example of how transgenic technology in mice can contribute to research
with the potential to help people.”
Camper noted that there are 12
other related forms of deafness-related mutations in which the responsible
gene remains unknown and that “finding the defective gene is the
first step toward developing new treatments which someday could restore
hearing in children and adults.”
The UM scientist now hope to find
a way to deliver the normal gene into the cells of adult animals. “The
next step is to develop delivery vehicles to introduce the normal gene
into inner ear cells of individuals who carry these deafness genes,”
said Yehoash Raphael, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the UM
Medical school. “Once adequate vectors are available, gene therapy
for genetic-based deafness will become a reality.”
“DNA cure of genetic deafness in mice helps human research,” UniSci
Science and Research News, May 29, 1998.
Despite the efforts of animal
rights activists such as Howard Lyman to keep it going, the Mad Cow Disease hysteria continues to recede. The European Commission is currently studying
a proposal to lift its ban on British beef which most observers expect
to occur by the autumn of 1998.
The EC banned British beef in March
1996 after the British government linked bovine spongiform enceophalopathy
(BSE) to a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
Two years later, Great Britain
has gone to extraordinary lengths to remove BSE-infected cattle from its
food supply, and the link between BSE and CJD grows ever more suspect.
There never was much more than
speculation and inference behind the alleged connection between the two
diseases. There hasn’t yet been a single verified case of an individual
eating meat from a BSE-infected animal and subsequently contracting any
form of CJD. In addition, so far there is no evidence that the prion believed
to be the cause of BSE exists in the muscle tissue of cows — so far it
has been found only in the brains of the animals.
In fact the sixth annual report
by the UK’s National CJD Surveillance Unit reported that rates of CJD
in Great Britain are consistent with CJD rates in other countries around
the world, including those that are free of BSE. Unlike some animal rights
extremists, the CJD Surveillance report does not rule out the possibility
that the rise in CJD cases in the UK is due to improvements in diagnoses
techniques, concluding, “It is impossible to say with certainty to
what extent these changes reflect an improvement in case ascertainment
and to what extent, if any, changes in incidence.”
“Cretuzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance in the UK, 6th report,” The
National CJD Surveillance Unit, 1997.
David Evans, “Mainland British beef exports ban could be lifted,”
Reuters News Service, June 10, 1998.
For the past few months a game called
Deer Hunter has topped the software charts. A hunting simulation
which lets the player go trudging through a forest looking for deer, the
games received lukewarm reviews from computer gaming magazines but
has generated a following among hunters.
Which, of course, upsets animal
rights activists to no end. Action for Animals Network recently posted
a release on its web site asking people to call Best Buy, a computer chain
in the Midwest, asking it to stop carrying Deer Hunter. In
the words of Action for Animals Network, “please call or write Best
Buy to let them know that this type of game promotes cruelty to animals
and that it certainly isnt a family game. Ask them to discontinue
selling this item.”
Up until now the only groups calling
for the removal of computer games for lacking “family” values
have been right wing groups, but it looks like at least some animal rights
advocates see this as an important cause as well.
The reader might wonder what would
be next? Will animal rights activists demand an end to the sale of programs
which simulate the dissection of a frogs? Isnt software like this
exactly what animal rights activists have been asking for — simulated
rather than live hunts? And shouldnt the Action for Animals Network be required to
produce even a shred of evidence that Deer Hunter promotes
cruelty to animals?
Action for Animals Network, “Cruel Game,” Press Release, March 1998.
A study published in the June issue
of Nature Neuroscience reveals just how far scientists have
come in understanding, and possibly someday correcting, |spinal cord| injuries.
Martin Schwab, of the Institute
for Brain Research at the University of Zurich in Sweden, and his colleagues
took rats and cut the nerve fibers in the rats brain stem. This
operation effectively removed the ability of the rats to exercise fine
motor control of their front limbs, making it impossible for them to climb
ropes or grasp food pellets.
Then the researchers injected the
rats with a specially engineered antibody called IN-1. Those rats receiving
IN-1 grew new nerve fibers that took over for the damaged fibers. Both
rats and human beings produce growth inhibitors which usually prevent
new fibers from growing. The Zurich researchers hope the things they have
learned in neutralizing these inhibitors in rats will help them to find
a way to neutralize them in human beings.
“This study re-emphasizes
the role of the non-injured nervous system in compensating for the loss
of function after damage,” said Michael Beattie, a neuroscience professor
at Ohio State University who specializes in spinal cord injury. “The
work theyve done suggests that theyre on the right track to
understanding how to produce therapies that can enhance repair and recovery
Jane E. Allen “New hope for repairing spinal injuries” Associated
Press, May 18, 1998.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Mary Beth Sweetland was up in arms over animal experiments
that researchers at the University of California-San Francisco plan to
carry out on squirrel monkeys.
According to UCSF vice chancellor
for research Zach Hall, researchers Marshal Fong and Stephen Chenung plan
to anesthetize the animals and then expose them to a range of very high
frequency noise. “The animals, when they wake up, will have a hearing
disability, one thats similar to one that millions of Americans
have [inability to hear high-frequency sounds],” Hall said.
Sweetland wants the experiments
stopped, but Hall said the experiments have already been approved by the
universitys committee on animal research and will have practical
“The research seeks to understand
the changes that occur in the brain as the result of sensory deprivation
– in this case, hearing loss – with the hope that we can use what we learn
to relieve the hearing loss caused by loud noise,” Hall said.
As Fong summed it up, “These
people [PETA] are distorting the truth here.”
“Activists want UC monkeys spared,” Scripps Howard, May 21, 1998.