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Genethics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values

Richard C. Hermann
JAMA. 1990;263(1):123-124. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440010121046.
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Recent headlines heralding advances in genetics research are challenging the notion that science progresses slowly. Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Toronto locate the genetic defect in cystic fibrosis. Cornell scientists take a historic step by releasing a genetically altered virus on a field of crops. James Watson, as if stepping out of history, presents the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Initiative to Congress. Characterized by one biomedical pilgrim as the "holy grail" of human genetics, the Genome Initiative will attempt to sequence and map the estimated 3 billion nucleotide base pairs and 100 000 genes that encode the species Homo sapiens.

What are we, as physicians or lay people, to make of this continual parade of breakthroughs? What are the possibilities for treating cystic fibrosis? What are the implications of a screening test for carriers? Is the release of a genetically altered virus a step toward the


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