Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Quandary column

The Whole Truth

Down's syndrome

For every 660 Down’s syndrome foetuses that are detected and terminated in the UK each year, 400 normal children perish as well.

By Michael Cook

A blood test for Down’s syndrome claims to be the “Holy Grail” of prenatal testing.

If you are ever searching for bioethics case studies, it’s hard to go past the Daily Mail, Britain’s number-two tabloid. It’s not all saucy tittle-tattle about the glam set and the royals: human interest is what drives the Daily Mail, and there are no more poignant stories than birth and death, the great themes of bioethics.

Synthetic Life or Cellular Machine?

By Michael Cook

The creation of synthetic bacteria will increase the speed with which new organisms can be generated, and reduce the value of animal life to mere chemical devices.

It was described as a scientific earthquake, but Craig Venter was just a fraction more modest in summing up his team’s biotechnology feat in May. His synthetic bacterium was, he said, “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”.

It certainly was an impressive technology. As they reported in Science, researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute painstakingly assembled the genome of one species of bacterium and inserted it into another cell. The constructed cell began to function, dividing and growing like a natural cell.

If You’re Not a Criminal, You’ve Got Nothing to Worry About

Image of crime scene

Over-reliance on DNA profiles in crime investigation is just one facet of a growing acceptance of genetic determinism – the assumption that we are our DNA. Credit: Jamie Tufrey

By Michael Cook

When the DNA profiles of innocent people are kept by law enforcement agencies it places them at risk of a lifetime of genetic surveillance.

One of the longest-running TV shows in the US is America’s Most Wanted, a reality show that gets viewers to dob in murderers, rapists and child molesters. To date, it claims to have fingered 1110 criminals.

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

Plastinated People

By Michael Cook

Exhibits of "plastinated" human remains in garish poses raise issues of human dignity.