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Not an easy opportunity to understand the front of science

The Second Creation How close are we to human cloning? Ian Wilmot and Keith Campbell with Colin Tudge. Translated from English: Amos Carmel. Professional translation editor: Dr. Dov Gabish. Mater Publishing, 277 pages, NIS 78

By Yanai Efran

Dolly and Talia the sheep, 1999

A senior GLC broadcaster, who likes to bring the northerners of the academic world closer to the crowd, once explained in a broadcast the seriousness of the problem created by cloning technology. What would happen, he explained, if a criminal who is also a millionaire decided to duplicate himself in hiding? It is indeed a moral issue - a rich criminal with a baby. It is difficult to estimate what caused such great horror to the broadcaster. Was it the hidden assumption that the "replication" would buy the evil millionaire immortality?
Or maybe the assumption that "replication" of a criminal brings another criminal like him into the world? Be that as it may, it is clear that this idiotic discussion was born from an elementary, careless lack of understanding of the scientific issue at hand.

Ynet also had to clarify the significance of the scientific breakthrough, and what could be more appropriate than recruiting the site's literature and restaurant critic for this ethical discussion? In her mind's eye, the visitor saw dozens of "little Hitlers with mustaches" emerging from the laboratories. This vision of expressions led her to plead with the MLA to add the film "The Boys from Brazil" (where Hitlers are replicated like brooms in "The Magician's Apprentice") to the curriculum of the biotechnology departments. Only in this way will our young Frankensteins understand the moral implications of their work, which the knowledgeable critic already understands very well.

What is the reason for this negligent media treatment? After all, most editors would not print a football commentary written by a person who does not know what is different.
No editor would share his restaurant critic on a panel discussing the impact of Israel's credit rating on the job market. How is it that there is no filtering, or at least professional editing, of what is written regarding medicine or science? The answer to this question is a bit complex. The first culprit is of course the media. Almost no Israeli daily newspaper has a scientific supplement, a scientific editor, or even a permanent scientific section. This is also the case with electronic news systems. If you ask the editors, they claim that the Israeli public will not be interested in such a supplement, or even a section.

On the other hand, on the front page of most American and European newspaper websites (and even of the Iranian newspapers that I managed to locate), you immediately find the link to the supplement or the scientific section. Are the readers of the local newspaper in Hickville, Montana, really more interested in science than the readers of "Maariv" in Tiberias or Kfar Saba? It is more likely that this is simply another expression of what can be called the "Mesaud concept" - enlightened editors who know very well how to appeal to the tastes of their low-brow customers.

What happens when the Israeli media nevertheless chooses to report on scientific issues? Among the few writers who cover the fields of science and medicine, one can find great differences at the professional level. In the prestigious newspapers in the USA and Europe, the scientific reporters have a high scientific education, and sometimes even have advanced degrees. In some journalism schools in the world, you can study journalistic-scientific writing.

On the other hand, a study conducted by Professor Meir Barzis at the School of Public Health at the Hebrew University showed that most health writers in Israel lack basic knowledge of epidemiology and basic concepts in the medical sciences.
Most of them lack tools that would allow them to filter or criticize information that comes from doctors and researchers or even from outsiders. Barzis finds in the articles that he examined quite a few overt and covert commercial interests. The editors' policy on these issues is also worrisome - according to the study, they hardly filter the news that the reporters offer them. It is difficult to conduct a similar study on reporters who mainly deal with science (and not health), because the number of these reporters in Israel is zero. That is why it is easy to understand how the level of public discussion on scientific issues in Israel is so flat and infantile.

But the culprit did not stop at the news systems. The scientific establishment also has a considerable part in creating this situation. The scientists in Israel do very little to influence the local media. They rarely write to report to the public (which finances most of the research) about the issues at hand, they hardly share the public in their debates, and they don't even try to mobilize public support for government funding of new research directions - an integral part of the politics of science all over the world.
In the Israeli-scientific discourse, it is very common to widen one's nostrils in disdain when faced with scientific coverage in Israeli newspapers. Many scientists like to think that their research is so sophisticated that it cannot be explained in a paper. That is why it is almost impossible to find a news or magazine text in Hebrew that explains at a reasonable level the scientific and technological significance of Dolly the sheep.

The translation of the book "The Second Creation", written by Ian Wilmot and Keith Campbell, the heads of the cloning team of Dolly the sheep, allows the Hebrew reader, perhaps for the first time, to get an explanation of the cloning and its meaning from a first-hand source. They also tell their personal story - from the beginning of their career, through the experiments that led to the creation of Dolly to dealing with the media blitz that came after she was born. The newspapers of the world covered the story with excitement, and the researchers deal in the book with the claims and analyzes made in the general press, in the scientific press and in bioethical circles. One of the comforts that can be drawn from this discussion is the fact that even in Great Britain, despite the excellent scientific supplements, there was no shortage of journalists and commentators who produced an impressive array of nonsense and nonsense about Dolly and her meaning. The stupid reactions did not stop in Britain: the German Der Spiegel preceded Ynet by devoting its cover image to cloning - a battalion of cloned Hitlers.

The authors take pains to explain that cloning can indeed guarantee the creation of individuals with very, very similar genomes (even though it is impossible to guarantee XNUMX percent genetic identity between two individuals), but each of these individuals will still be a separate animal, at least in the same way that two identical twins are separate people.

The first cloning technologies were developed already in the XNUMXs, but all the clones before Dolly were clones of embryos (that is, the creation of several almost genetically identical embryos from one embryo). Dolly, and this is the great innovation of Wilmot and Campbell, is a clone from an adult cell. To create Dolly, the team took a nucleus from an adult sheep's udder cell and inserted it into an egg, which developed into an embryo. Therefore, Dolly is genetically very similar to the sheep from whose udder the donor cell was taken (this sheep, by the way, died years before the cloning). The book also tells the story of Cyril, Cecil, Cedric and Stephens, four rams who were cloned from one cell, but grew up in different mercies. The differences in temperament, and even in the appearance of these four rams are very great.

Besides explaining why the fear of cloning Hitler is nonsense, or why it is impossible to bring a beloved cat back to life with the help of cloning, the book also tells what the purpose of all this effort is. The cloning was conducted at an agricultural research institute in Scotland, and the main benefit hoped for from it is agricultural. The authors explain this well. They also mention the full range of other applications that have been proposed to date, and discuss each one.

Every popular science book has to bridge a huge gap - it has to come out of a dry technical world full of details and jargon, and extract from it the gist, the whole gist and only the gist. This main point should be translated not only into the language of the lay reader, but also into an interesting, tight, and well-written story. The classics of popular science were written by scientists who know how to tell a story (like Stephen Hawking, for example), or by writers who know how to read scientific material (Simon Singh is the prominent example of recent years).

"The second creation" offers another model, reminiscent of the autobiographies that aging politicians write with the help of journalists. Wilmot and Campbell recruited the journalist Colin Tudge (or perhaps it was Tudge who recruited Wilmot and Campbell), probably with the intention of combining the scientific understanding of the former with the eloquence of the latter. It is hard to say that this model works. Thus, for example, the group reports on one of the conceptual breakthroughs on the way to Dolly:

"We don't need to delve into the basic ideas, but there is no doubt that the readers will insist on the main point: during the silence, some changes are observed in the still cells. Including: monophosphorylated histones (the proteins that make up the cores of the chromosomes), tufted centrioles (the entities around which skills are formed in mitosis), reduction in all protein synthesis, increased proteolysis, decreased transcription and increased turnover of DNA in the cell, separation of polyribosomes, accumulation of ribosomes S80, chromatin condensation". Although, there is no doubt that the readers will stand for the main thing here.

Many sentences in the book require a second and third reading. The hope that a journalist will succeed in simplifying the scientists' story is not always realized. The second part of the formula, namely the assumption that the two scientists will guarantee perfect accuracy on the scientific side, does not always work either. Thus, for example, Wilmot and Campbell talk about one of the final goals of cloning: to clone suitable animals that have undergone genetic improvements through genetic engineering. The ability to do this, they explain, depends, among other things, on the developing science of genomics, the purpose of which, according to them, is to find out what each gene does. But the main branch of genomics tries to do exactly the opposite - to decipher the complicated interactive networks of the tens of thousands of different genes, or in other words, to find out what the genes do together.

This is not a small nuance. The assumption that genes operate in huge networks, which are in a delicate balance, has far-reaching consequences for the ability of genetic engineering to change certain traits without affecting others.
Wilmot and Campbell, a molecular biologist and an embryologist, do not know the subtleties of the science of genomics, and that is understandable. Tadge, who is in charge of the writing and style, shouldn't know either. A stew of partners, our sages said, is always lukewarm.

The writers choose to get into the nitty-gritty of the technical issues. They try to help readers with a term at the end of the book, and try to define each term in advance. But sometimes words such as "immunofluorescence" are omitted, which are not explained anywhere. The almost complete absence of diagrams and drawings also makes it difficult to understand. And yet, in the English original, Tadge manages to maintain, within the details of the technical details, an amusing language and subtle English humor.

The well-known French stain, which compares translations to women, states that if they are faithful they are not beautiful and if they are beautiful they are not faithful. The current translation chooses to prove the stain while taking a fanatical allegiance. For example, when the source states that human cloning can be seen as straightforward and reasonable, the translator chooses to say that "human cloning can be seen in a reasonable way as it is right in front of us". When the writers tell how they refuted the claims against them beyond equivocation, the translation states that they were refuted "beyond any doubling of meaning". Many phrases and idioms are translated literally, and sometimes the structure of the translated sentence is unreadable ("extensive experience with many more animals will provide us with a clear idea of ​​the chances").

The linguistic and scientific editing of the book is negligent. The scientific editor identifies himself as an internist. An embryologist would have been better suited to the task, saving many errors. There are foreign words adopted by the Hebrew embryologists as their pronunciation, yet the translator (or editor) takes the trouble to find or invent a translation for them. But specifically words that have a common and accepted Hebrew translation (such as the word toxin, which every Hebrew biologist knows the translation of - poison), he chooses to leave in Hebrew. The translation policy is also not uniform (for example, the suffix genesis is sometimes transcribed to "Genesis" and sometimes to "Geneza").

Because of all these the book is not easy to read, and sometimes it is almost unsuccessful. And yet it is an important, even necessary, book that offers relief and medicine to the neglected Hebrew science enthusiasts. Because of the disdain of the heads of the media and the scientific establishment, the Hebrew reader has almost no opportunities to get to know and understand the scientific issues that make the world headlines. Those who succeed in this book, and even those who skip some of the chapters, will finally be able to understand what it is really about.

Campbell, Colin Tudge of Biological ControlIan Wilmut, Keith The Second Creation: Dolly and the Age

* The knowledge site was until the end of 2002 part of the IOL portal of the Haaretz group

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