July 29 - A group of British scientists have expressed concerns that experiments on primates could give rise to a ''Planet of the Apes'' type scenario. Jim Drury reports.
STORY: The new Hollywood blockbuster 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' may become a silver screen classic. But British scientists want action to prevent such a scenario from ever becoming reality. Boffins from the Academy of Medical Sciences have produced a report demanding urgent regulation of experiments involving 'Animals Containing Human Material' - ACHM for short. Geneticist Dr Robin Lovell-Badge is one of the report's authors. He says that genetically modifying animals so closely related to humans is dangerous and unpredictable. SOUNDBITE (English) DR ROBIN LOVELL-BADGE, GENETICIST FROM THE MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL'S NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, SAYING: "We felt that there's potentially a gap in the regulations of animal research, which is containing human material, whether there's any crossing over of either regulatory boundaries or ethical boundaries because of course the more human genes or cells we put into an animal the possibility is that you might start to alter its properties, its characteristics, in some way." The scientists want experiments on animals re-categorised into three separate groups. Category One experiments would feature uncontroversial work, with current regulations sufficient. Category Two would cover a limited number of procedures needing extra scrutiny. A third category includes experiments in which primates might be given human characteristics. These would be banned. SOUNDBITE (English) DR ROBIN LOVELL-BADGE, GENETICIST FROM THE MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL'S NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, SAYING: "Currently in our survey of experiments being done there's nothing that came into...certainly nothing that came into Category Three and actually very little of anything that came into Category Two as yet, but it's all on the horizon." In the new movie scientists seeking a cure for Alzheimer's create a new breed of ape with human-like intelligence. The apes eventually revolt and fight a war for supremacy with humanity. Lovell-Badge dismisses fears of such an eventuality. SOUNDBITE (English) DR ROBIN LOVELL-BADGE, GENETICIST FROM THE MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL'S NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, SAYING: "It's absolutely what we are trying to prevent. We don't want scientists going that far............There's no way that scientists know how to do that now or that it would happen by accident." Research involving great apes is outlawed in Britain, but continues in other countries, including the United States. For those worrying about apes taking over the world, the report's authors insist the vast majority of scientists are eager to work within strict guidelines. But they want to keep a tight rein on the few who may be tempted to monkey around. Jim Drury, Reuters