A new look at the future of man
The final ruler of human destiny may not be politics or science, but a tiny substance within ourselves—the gene. On it depends all hereditary change, for better or for worse, in our brains and bodies. Here, with the help of some of the world’s greatest geneticists, Maclean’s offers
One hundred years ago a plump monk, Johann Gregor Mendel, studied the growth of successive generations of pea plants in the quiet garden of his monastery in Brünn, Austria. That was the peaceful beginning of modern genetics — the science that deals with heredity and variation among living things.
Since then, genetics has so grown in knowledge and stature that the world has increasingly turned to the geneticist for answers to many critical questions about the future of the human race. One of the most pressing concerns the biological effects of radiation. This is not surprising since radioactivity—whether from X-ray machines or atomic-bomb fallout — can damage human
beings now alive, and, by gene mutation, damage their progeny for generations to come.
Radiation has overshadowed a host of other important questions about genetics and the destiny of man. What is happening to man as a physical and intellectual creature? Is he improving? Or is he deteriorating since medical progress has largely suspended the “survival of the fittest” law expounded by Darwin? To what extent can control and manipulation of the genes help us control the future shape and quality of the human animal? Is there any possibility of preventing inherited diseases such as idiocy and diabetes? Can genetics help us solve the looming problem of a world food shortage
by improving the quality and quantity of the plants and animals on which we depend for sustenance?
These are some of the matters Maclean’s recently discussed with a group of distinguished geneticists who were attending the Tenth International Congress on Genetics in Montreal. The panel, which was chaired by Maclean’s associate editor Sidney Katz, included the following members: Dr. Howard Newcombe, Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd.; Dr. L. C. Dunn, Columbia University. New York; Dr. Curt Stern, University of California; Dr. L. S. Penrose, University of London; Dr. A. R. Gopal-Ayengar, Atomic Energy Establishment, Bombay; Dr. Mogens Westergaard, University of Copenhagen; Dr. Hitoshi Kihara, National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan; Dr. François Jacob, Pasteur Institute, Paris; Dr. Arne Muntzing, Institute of Genetics, Lund, Sweden.
On heredity disease: “It will be possible to find chemicals and use them in treating the mother to stop various hereditary diseases.”
On sterilization: “We’ve had sterilization in Sweden for some time. It does cut down on the number of mental defectives produced.”
On natural selection: “Control of production of undesirable types by natural selection still operates. Many idiots don’t find mates.’
On artificial insemination: “A woman can make provisos that let her say: ‘At least he won’t give me a child who’s a psychopath.’
On survival of the race: “I can’t agree that medical treatment of biological misfits is leading us toward racial suicide.”
On radiation damage: “We still don’t know the exact damage done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There continue to be deaths.”
On radiation protection: "There is now a pill which if taken before a lethal dose of radiation . . . will enable life to survive.”
On medical radiation: “This is a real problem. The physician wants to protect his patient, but not frighten him of necessary safeguards.”
On radiation and sex: “If the mother receives excessive radiation you get fewer boys ... if the father, fewer girls.”
World-famous scientists' lively discussion dealt with sterilization, artificial insemination, hereditary disease, radiation and survival
At the root of all genetics theory there lies one simple equation. A new life begins when a male sperm enters a female egg. The sperm and egg each contain twenty-three or twenty-four chromosomes. It is the new forty-six or fortyeight-chromosome cell they form that determines what the new person is going to be and how he will develop in a particular environment. Within the chromosomes are thousands of genes. Each pair of genes—one from the mother, one from the father—is responsible for some characteristic of the new person, such as color of eyes, body shape, health and life expectancy. The gene was the focal point of interest at the Montreal meeting.
From the special Maclean’s panel discussion, from the hundreds of papers delivered during the week-long congress, and from recent announcements by geneticists, one principal conclusion can be drawn: man is on the threshold of an exciting new era in understanding why he is as he is.
Even more important, he is equipping himself with genetic knowledge about how to improve himself both physically and intellectually. Those of us now alive are the products of chance; those who come after us don’t have to be. In the matter of hereditary disease, for example, two McGill scientists announced that they had induced cleft palate in newborn mice by injecting the mothers during pregnancy with large doses of cortisone. This suggests the possibility of controlling a wide range of “inherited” defects by altering the body chemistry of the pregnant mother either by chemicals or diet.
Another study, by Dr. J. A. Fraser Roberts of London, pointed out that people in certain blood groups are susceptible to certain diseases. This opens up a whole new approach to the treatment and prevention of disease.
To promote the future vigor of the human race various measures were advocated. Artificial insemination received support from one of Maclean’s panelists. At the same time he issued a warning. The would-be mother pays far too little attention to genetic background in choosing a donor.
One geneticist, Nobel Prizewinner Dr. Hermann Muller, claimed that, when properly applied, artificial insemination is superior to our present method of producing children. He has told married
couples that, in the future, they will have a social obligation to forgo having children in the usual manner, which “simply mirrors the peculiarities and weaknesses of the parents as closely as possible.” Dr. Norma Ford Walker, a Toronto geneticist. described inter-racial marriages as biologically desirable. “Social objections to such marriages are superficial,” she said.
The human damage—present and future—caused by too much radiation troubled the geneticists, and one of them. Dr. Hitoshi Kihara of Japan, spoke the sombre reminder: “We still don’t know the full results of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Our people still continue to die.” One of Kihara’s colleagues had earlier reported to the congress, “If you take several strands of hair from a person who has been exposed to radioactive fallout, and tie them around the roots of a plant, mutations thirteen times more numerous than normal result.” Differences of opinion among scientists as to the hazards of radiation were attributed by the panelists to a lack of accurate knowledge. More research in the field of biological damage is needed, Dr. Stern said. However, it is being held up because “it’s expensive— even too expensive for wealthy private foundations. Governments will have to do the job.”
Dramatic developments by plant and animal geneticists were an almost commonplace subject of discussion at the congress. Japanese scientists reported that they have trebled their country's total rice supply, produced seedless watermelons and pomegranates, and grown radishes a foot in diameter and weighing ten pounds. A minor Canadian milestone has been the production of a super-Christmas tree: it’s a uniform green color, it doesn't shed its needles and it has strong branches capable of bearing heavy gifts.
Below, in summary, are some of the most arresting questions and answers that emerged.
Are we committing racial suicide?
Sidney Katz read a recent statement by Dr. Rene Du Bos of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. “Medical interference with the processes of natural selection may be a step toward racial suicide. We are allowing a large number of biological misfits to survive, many of whom will become a burden on society. All kinds of heredity defects that used to be eliminated by evolutionary selection are now being reproduced in our communities.”
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“How will man improve himself? By learning to control development of the child in embryo”
Westergaard: We should look at that
statement closely. A person with a number of physical defects may be unable to survive in a primitive society; but this same imperfect person may make an exceedingly valuable member of a civilized society. We are becoming less fit to survive in primitive circumstances but we are certainly becoming more and more adapted to survive in our present form of community.
Muntzing: I sometimes wonder how
great are the dangers to civilization because of medical progress. I wonder if primitive people are really hardier as the result of natural selection. For instance, I’d like to compare the incidence of poor vision among a jungle tribe and people in an urban centre. It’s true that most of us have to wear glasses when we grow older but I’ve been told that African natives also have a surprisingly high proportion of eye defects.
Katz: Du Bos must have had in mind people like diabetics who now reach maturity and have children bearing “diabetic” genes.
Dunn: They will come to no harm, thanks to insulin.
Muntzing: That’s it ... we can adapt ourselves by taking insulin. In the future there may be injections for many of the inherited illnesses.
Stern: Or there may be other means of treatment. We can now operate successfully on cleft palate—a highly undesirable inherited defect.
Muntzing: I don’t want to give the impression that I entirely disagree with Du Bos’ statement. There's some truth in it. We should try to counterbalance the dangers of racial deterioration by such measures as heredity counseling and sterilization.
Is sterilization justifiable? Whom would you sterilize?
Muntzing: Yes. High on the list would be mothers who are incapable of looking after their offspring. Then there would be cases where it is known, with practical certainty, that the offspring will suffer from severe hereditary defects.
Westergaard: We have sterilization laws in Denmark. We sterilize about four hundred patients a year, most of them mental defectives. I don’t think it’s an efficient way of improving the race genetically but it does cut down on the number of mental defectives. These people couldn’t possibly take care of children so they shouldn’t be allowed to have any. Sterilization also brings benefits to many of the patients. Were it not for the operation to make them sterile they might have to be confined to an institution.
Katz: Are mental defectives subject to compulsory sterilization in Denmark?
Westergaard: No, it’s voluntary. But often you're dealing with people who cannot make their own decisions. In such cases, a guardian assumes the responsibility.
As this part of the discussion progressed a number of the geneticists brought out the point that sterilization laws are in existence in a number of European countries, in Japan and in half the states of the United States. Since 1928, Alberta has had a Sexual Sterilization Act. It is the only province in Canada with such legislation. During the lifetime of the
law some 1,700 operations have been performed, the majority of them on women. Prospects for sterilization arc considered by a four-man eugenics board, two of them physicians, two of them laymen of high repute. The largest number of sterilizations are performed on mental defectives. (Example; a mentally defective male in his thirties who has had one defective child and has spent most of his life in jails and mental hospitals.) Reviewing the legislation after many years, an Alberta health official says, "Sterilization in Alberta has been carried out very quietly and efficiently and the results have been pre-eminently satisfactory.”
Is artificial insemination good for the human race?
Artificial insemination met with the approval of most of the panelists although none advocated it as vigorously as Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky of Columbia University, who told a congress audience that “natural selection lacks foresight. Only man could, if he wishes, supply the foresight which nature has failed to provide in evolution. To do so, it will be necessary to substitute a planned artificial selection for the unplanned natural one.”
But Dr. Penrose of London had one
important objection: There’s one aspect of artificial insemination that’s hardly ever mentioned. Since a woman has a choice of donor it would be worth while to find out certain things about his genetic background to avoid unnecessary difficulties with future progeny. She should ask. "Is he Rh positive or negative? Is he a carrier of dangerous recessive genes?” In the case of a marriage partner a woman has to put up with such genetic disabilities but in the case of a donor whom she’ll never know she doesn't have to.
Katz: Aren’t these precautions taken?
Penrose: I’ve never heard of it being
done. While a woman doesn't and shouldn't know who the donor is, at least she should be able to say with some assurance, “Well, at least he won't give me a child who is a psychopath oían idiot.”
Dunn: Physicians I know tell me that they often ask the women who are to be inseminated what kind of donor they want. They usually say, “Just get me a good-looking medical student.”
One of the delegates to the congress, Dr. Hermann J. Muller of Indiana University, who won a Nobel Prize for using X rays to induce gene mutation in living organisms, has painted a vivid picture of how man will go about improving himself in the future. His prognostication was given at a small scientific gathering in New York. Muller believes that we will learn how to control the development of the child in embryo and thus prevent mistakes in body formation before they happen. He feels we will be able to determine the sex of any given child and produce at will identical or fraternal twins, or, for that matter, even higher multiple births.
The parents of the future, he believes, will have a more ethical attitude toward society and “voluntarily restrict the number of their offspring for the common good. It will also be regarded as a social obligation to bring into the world human beings as favorably equipped by nature as possible, rather than those who simply mirror their parents’ peculiarities and weaknesses as closely as possible.”
Muller is certain that “foster pregnancy" (artificial insemination) will be widely welcomed. “This will provide the opportunity or bearing a child from reproductive cells derived from persons who exemplify the considered ideals of the foster parents. These reproductive cells will preferably be derived from persons long deceased so as to permit a better perspective on their worth. For this purpose, banks of deep-frozen reproductive cells will be maintained, and also multiplying cultures of them.”
The exciting inference—Shakespeares and Darwins “fathering" children decades and even centuries after their death— was not made by Dr. Muller or any other scientist. But Dr. Muller suggested something nearly as startling. Through asexual or “virgin” birth it may become possible for the offspring to obtain his hereditary equipment entirely from one individual with whom he is as identical genetically as if he were his identical twin.
“This will be accomplished by extracting the nucleus from a human egg and inserting in its place an entire nucleus obtained from a cell of some pre-existing person, chosen on the evidence of the life he or she has led and his or her tried potentialities.
“Fortunately,” concludes Muller, “men will, in ail probability, have joined into one world community before these techniques come into widespread use. For if the people of one nation were to apply them intelligently and extensively even for a few decades before the rest of the world did so. they would rise to such a high level of capability as to make them virtually invincible. The world cannot afford to have separate nations putting up their separate genetic ‘sputniks.’ ”
What advances lie ahead in preventing hereditary defects and diseases?
At least one of Dr. Muller's predictions is on the way to coming true, judging from a report by Dr. F. C. Fraser and Dr. D. G. Trasler of McGill University. They injected heavy doses of cortisone in a large number of pregnant mice, which resulted in a high proportion of the newborn mice having cleft palate. All of the mice used belonged to a strain with a predisposition to cleft palate. The experimental group, however, gave birth to progeny who had cleft palate four times as frequently as the control group. The Maclean’s panel was asked the significance of this experiment.
Newcoinbe: We see here that if you change the environment in which the foetus is growing you can affect the likelihood that a hereditary predisposition to a defect or disease will express itself. Thus you can influence the quality of the progeny.
Westergaard: In the future, I think it will be possible to find a series of chemicals and use them in treating the mother to stop the action of various hereditary diseases. Or in some cases you might have to treat the child. I think that* certain forms of idiocy are a good example, like amaurotic family idiocy. (In this condition the child appears normal at birth but because of a peculiar hereditary defect in the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, these cells swell up. fill with fat and produce not only idiocy but blindness, paralysis and ultimately death.) I’m sure that this form of idiocy can be remedied if we can find the right chemical to inject in the child.
Katz: Are there any other kinds of idiocy that might be remedied or ameliorated by treatment after birth?
Penrose: There’s a condition known as
phenylketonuria—caused by faulty metabolism. By diet, it is considered possible to exclude certain substances so that the poison won’t pile up and react on the individual. If you keep the individual free of this substance from birth there's a good chance that these ill effects might not be produced.
A report issued shortly after the congress reveals further progress in correcting hereditary defects. A common form of idiocy is mongolism, so named because the victims have small, slanting eyes with inner skin folds and fissured tongues. Twenty-six mongoloid infants, starting practically from birth, were fed a diet which included a high proportion of calf pituitary extract. Three of them appear to have developed a normal intelligence and have lost some of their mongoloid appearance. In several others, there has been a considerable improvement in IQ. Many geneticists claim that mongolism results from a glandular deficiency in the mother (ovarian or pituitary) which
seriously affects the child during pregnancy.
What new discoveries have been made about “predisposition” to disease?
There evidently exists a relationship between a person’s blood group and the kind of disease he is predisposed to. Present information on this somewhat startling relationship can be summarized as follows:
Cancer: Based on surveys in various parts of England, people with blood group A are twenty-five percent more likely to develop cancer of the stomach than are people of groups B, AB or O. The association between group A and stomach cancer has been confirmed in other countries of Europe as well as in America and Australia. No definite association has been found between blood groups and other forms of cancer.
Duodenal and gastric ulcers: There is a strong association between peptic ulcer and blood group O; also a consistent relationship between group O and duodenal
ulcer has been noted in a half dozen countries as far apart as the United States and China. The conclusion from numerous studies is that a person of group O is about forty percent more likely to develop a duodenal ulcer than is someone belonging to groups A. B, or AB. Gastric or stomach ulcer is about twenty-five percent more common for those in group O.
Pernicious anemia is found to be markedly associated with group A, according to surveys in Great Britain and the United States. People in group A appear to have a greater predisposition to diabetes mellitus. Tentatively, it is believed that group A types predominate in cirrhosis of the liver.
Dr. Stern, speaking on the Maclean’s panel, pointed out that the possibility that an individual’s blood group might render him liable to certain common diseases could have far-reaching practical effects in improving human health. In the first place a person might thus have a warning of the particular disease he’s susceptible to and take preventive measures. Second. analysis of blood groups may throw light on the actual mechanism by which diseases are caused.
How much damage has been done by nuclear fallout and radiation?
Penrose: According to the figures given by the physicists, I think the damage already done on people now living is not detectable; nor is it negligible.
Stern: From the point of view of individuals yet to be born, the damage is already considerable.
Kihara: The Japanese people are very sensitive about the effects of radiation. We still don’t know the exact extent of the damage done to our people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There continue to be deaths among those who were in the explosion. There is an increased rate among them of leukemia. The closer they were to the explosion the higher the rate. About one person in eighty gets leukemia. The farther the people were away from the explosion the lower the leukemia rate until it becomes normal—one in several thousands.
Katz: Have any further unfavorable results been observed?
Stern: Sterility is six times more frequent among people who have received large doses than among the general population.
Katz: Does radiation influence the sex of an unborn child?
Stern: Just a few weeks ago, we received news that radiation does affect sex. If only the mother receives excessive radiation, you get fewer boys. On the other hand if the father was exposed and not the mother, you get fewer girls. For the first time we can now say that—although small—radiation has an effect on sex determination.
Katz: Is there—or will there be—any application of this principle?
Stern: Presumably if you want to risk human exposure to large doses of radiation you can get fewer females by irradiating males, and vice versa.
Katz: Do you think people are getting too much radiation in diagnostic and therapeutic medicine?
Jacob: I think so—especially in diagnosis.
Penrose: The amount of medical radiation an individual is receiving varies with the doctors in any given section of any country and the kind of equipment they're using. I myself think that gradually the dangers are being realized and the risks in the future are going to become less.
“Is it possible that a ‘radiation-resistant man will evolve naturally?”
Gopal-Ayengar: I think that there are large parts of the world where people are being exposed to much more X-ray radiation than warranted. They’re not being protected; they’re being exploited. In such places, some effort should be made to control the use of radiation by the medical profession.
Newconibc: I think it should be pointed out that medical radiation presents a real problem to the physician. On the one hand he wants to protect his patient; on the other, he doesn’t want to frighten him to the point where he would refuse diagnostic procedures which are absolutely necessary to safeguard the patient’s health.
Katz: If human beings continue to be exposed to increasing doses of radiation, is it possible that, by a process of natural selection, a “radiation resistant” man might emerge?
Penrose: I suppose there are inherited differences among men in the amount of radiation they can stand . . . but on the question you raise, I don't think anything is known about it.
Muntzing: It is hereditarily possible but highly improbable.
Is it possible to give protection against radiation, by chemicals or otherwise?
Penrose: Some of my colleagues in England did some work along this line with mice. They gave animals that had received lethal doses of radiation fresh blood and they lived.
Gopal-Ayengar: There is now available a pill, known as AET, which if taken before a lethal dose of radiation is administered will enable life to survive.
(The pill Dr. Gopal-Ayengar referred to is AET, or, as it is known chemically, S.2-aminoethylisothiuronium. In several experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, two groups of mice were given 800 roentgens—twice the lethal dose—of radiation. All the untreated animals died; nearly all the animals that had been fortified by AET survived.
AET, however, has many drawbacks. It must be given at least fifteen minutes before irradiation to be effective, and, within an hour, its protective effect wears off. Another serious drawback is its toxicity—it induces extreme nausea and a frightening drop in blood pressure. At present doctors regard if as too dangerous to try on human beings. Dr. Walter Gordy of Duke University cautioned people against having false hopes that a pill exists to protect them against the powerful rays that would be unleashed in an H-bomb war. “They can always make the H-bomb bigger faster than they can make the pills bigger,” he said.)
Why do scientists find it so hard to agree on the dangers of radiation?
Muntzing: I think the wide differences of opinion clearly reflect our ignorance. Basic research is sadly lacking. It would be wise to spend a lot of money in this way.
Ncwconibe: A lot of people don't realize the magnitude of the research job that still has to be done. All the information we can acquire by easy methods has now been acquired. The task ahead is great and difficult. And it will be costly; the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission now spends thirty million a year on biological research.
Stern: The large-scale and long-term
animal experiments now required are so expensive that only governments can underwrite them. Not even wealthy private foundations can afford them. Some of the studies will involve hundreds of thousands of animals and go on for several years in order to observe genetic effects over many, many generations.
Gopal-Ayengar: In southwest India
there’s a region with a hundred thousand people who have been living for centuries near large deposits of sands which give off many times the amount of the normal background radioactivity given off
by soil and rock. We intend to study these people with regard to fertility, stillbirths, longevity, sex ratios and so on.
Katz: Do you have any impression of the health of these people?
Gopal-Ayengar: They appear to be healthy, but from a general point of view, rather subdued.
Dr. Howard Newcombe described a novel statistical research program being planned in Canada. With the co-operation of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics and the Department of National Health and Welfare, Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. is compiling a record of medical information on families in British Columbia. This Family Register Index, if adopted nationally, would eventually file a card on every family in the country, noting all deaths, marriages, stillbirths, and congenital abnormalities at birth. Special records will be kept of cousin marriages. Thus, the Family Register Index can yield information about the present rate of mutation among the population as a whole, among the offspring of consanguinous marriages, and. in time, something about the trends to be expected in genetic damage in the future. The study might continue for a hundred years, or even longer.
Is the human animal becoming more or less intelligent?
Dr. Penrose answered optimistically. He described wide-scale surveys of the IQ of school children in Scotland in 1930. The same procedure was repeated in 1947. It was predicted that the average IQ w'ould decline since, in the general increase in population, the lower class (and lower IQ) families would have a higher proportion of the total number of children. "This didn't happen,” said Penrose. “Actually there was a small increase
in average intelligence.” Dr. Muntzing preferred to reserve judgment on what was happening to human intelligence. The genetic studies conducted so far had covered too brief a period, he said.
Can new genetic discoveries help solve the growing world food shortage?
Kihara: By using an abnormal gene mutation we created a seedless watermelon. The advantage is that it's more comfortable to eat, there’s more meat and less waste.
Katz: Has the taste changed?
Kihara: It changed slightly, but the taste is very good. Three years ago I produced a seedless pomegranate—luscious, nicely flavored fruit which had been handicapped because the normal strain is all seeds. We can also produce seedless citrus fruits and strawberries. In time, production costs will be low enough to produce these seedless fruits commercially.
Muntzing: A good example of a fruit which was rendered seedless and is now commercially successful is the banana as we know it—the seedless banana. The primitive variety of banana is full of seeds.
Another Japanese achievement has been the production of the largest radishes in the world. This is an important development because radishes are widely used in Japan as a food, either boiled, dried, pickled or raw. Some varieties, like the Sakurazima-Daikon, are shaped like an onion, are a foot across in diameter and weigh up to ten pounds. Another variety, the Moriguti-Daikon, is sometimes three feet long. New varieties of rice have increased Japan’s rice crop threefold. Some of the new vaiieties were the results of gene mutation by X rays. Indeed, after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki several types of abnormal rice plants were found gi owing in the region.
Most of the panel members, like Dr. Gopal-Ayengar, felt that it is now possible to increase present crop yields by a great deal. However, they also felt that along with the introduction of more scientific agriculture it would be necessary to delimit the world’s population by birth control. Dr. Stern warned that "we may reach a stage where there won’t even he any more standing room on the earth. At that stage, we may have to limit couples to two children per family.”
A new and remarkably accurate method of animal breeding was described to the congress by Dr. Clyde Stormont of the University of California. It involves making use of our knowledge of the animal’s blood type to predict what characteristics the offspring will have. Thus, by mating two animals whose blood types are known, it is possible to obtain a pig with a lot of bacon, a sheep with thick, long wool, a cow loaded with beef. This system is already in use to produce fastgrowing, fast-laying hens. Animal bloodtyping is carried on in three American university centres and at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.
Is freedom of science in serious danger?
Scientific freedom was very much in the thoughts of the panel members as well as the other sixteen hundred geneticists attending the congress. Early in March. Russia announced that she would be represented by twenty-seven scientists.
Only nine turned up. All those who failed to appear were regarded as reputable research workers who had refused to conform with the genetic views of Dr. Trofim Lysenko, whose scientific opinions are favored by the Russian government. Lysenko believes that environment is more important than heredity, that acquired characteristics, under certain circumstances, can be inherited and passed en to future generations. But most geneticists throughout the world believe that only the genes have the ability to transmit physiological traits. Like many other distinguished scientists present at the congress. Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky of Columbia University characterized the Russians’ views as scientific bunkum and accused them of “spreading old wives’ tales.”
The permanent committee of the congress passed a resolution expressing “deepest sympathy to all scientists who were prevented from attending the congress by their governments.” It appealed for adherence to the free dissemination of scientific information.
The panel was asked to comment on the position of the geneticist in the Soviet Union.
Westergaard: The signs are not very encouraging. We read the papers of the absent Soviet scientists, which had been submitted to us in advance. They were very objective and impartial. The situation is very confusing because only a short time ago a leading Russian scientific journal published a vigorous attack by a geneticist on Lysenko’s views.
Katz: Why does the Russian government promote Lysenko’s views?
Westergaard: I think these views gained popularity during the 1920s when agriculture on the collective farms was undergoing a drastic change. The peasants had to be given good reasons for using new methods. “You won't have to work so hard, three or four years from now,” they were told. The idea was preached that crops, animals, everything would improve if provided with a good environment. That’s how the idea began, and since then ft has spread.
Katz: What genetic idea is the most repugnant to the Russians?
Muntzing: That certain individuals are born with specific hereditary defects and that they will not grow up to be normal and healthy.
Most of those who took part in the Montreal discussions agreed, at least implicitly, that the atomic age has drastically altered the life of the geneticist. He is increasingly dragged out of his laboratory to engage in discussions that dwell more on politics than on science. He is besieged by requests to work on problems which have an immediate and practical application. But the true geneticist—as does the true scientist in other fields—seeks a different end. He attempts to unravel deep mysteries for the sake of unraveling them. The credo was summed up by Dr. Curt Stern of the University of California in the closing moments of the panel discussion.
“Knowledge is worth while in itself as a human endeavor. Geneticists are delegates of humanity whose mission it is to explore the secrets of our inheritance. We have often been told that we should get down from our ivory tower. I think we should remain in our ivory tower. Man likes to explore his universe for the sheer joy of it, much the same as he likes to write poetry or compose music.” ★