John Parrington

Making a Difference

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Review of 'The Human Story', Robin Dunbar, Faber & Faber £12.99

Ever since Charles Darwin proposed that humans and apes share a common evolutionary ancestor, we have been fascinated to understand what distinguishes us from our simian cousins. One of the most astonishing facts of modern genetics, confirmed this year by the completion of the chimpanzee genome project, is that there is only 1.2 percent divergence between our genes and those of the chimp.

Unnatural Selection

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Review of 'Genetic Politics', Anne Kerr and Tom Shakespeare, New Clarion Press £12.95

Eugenics is the idea that it is possible, as well as desirable, to 'improve' the genetic make-up of the human race. Eugenics could mean encouraging people with 'good' genes to reproduce, or preventing those with 'undesirable' characteristics from doing so. Not that long ago it seemed such ideas had been discredited once and for all by the experience of Nazi Germany. But according to this stimulating and thought-provoking book, eugenics is being given a new lease of life by new scientific developments.

Trading on Tragedy

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Review of 'Fallout', Juan Gonzalez, Verso £10.95

When the World Trade Centre collapsed, the pulverised remains formed a torrential dust cloud that rapidly dispersed into the atmosphere over Manhattan. But this was no ordinary dust. It contained many highly toxic substances. This book, by New York journalist Juan Gonzalez, is a shocking account of the failure of the authorities to safeguard the health of the residents and workers of Manhattan and the rescue workers who toiled in the disaster zone.

The Warmongers' Poisoned Chalice

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Review of 'The Final Frontier', Dominick Jenkins, Verso £19

As the US prepares to invade Iraq, ostensibly to stop Saddam Hussein using biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, a historical account that looks at how the United States played a central role in the development of such weapons is very timely. The book begins in July 1921 with New York in ruins following a bomb attack, the majority of its inhabitants wiped out by poison gas.

The Gene Machine

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Sir John Sulston, former director of the human genome mapping project, talks to John Parrington.

We hear a lot nowadays about the genome project initiating a revolution in science, and that we're now living in the post-genomic age. In your book, you say that shouldn't really be called the post-genome age but the post-hype age. What did you mean by that?

Clones Maketh a man?

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John Parrington examines the controversy over the cloning of human embryos.

A controversial area of science that has hardly been out of the spotlight since the birth of its leading lady - Dolly the sheep - is cloning. The recent announcement that scientists have succeeded in cloning a human embryo has reignited the simmering debate about the issue. The US biotechnology firm responsible, Advanced Cell Technology (Act) says its intention is not to produce a cloned baby. Instead it aims to produce cloned embryos as a source of human stem cells. These have the unique property of being able to mature into any cell type in the body.

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