BY Caroline Criado-Perez/New Statesman/22 April 2015
It’s the fluff, explains Bessy, a factory worker in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novelNorth and South. “Little bits, as fly off fro’ the cotton, when they’re carding it, and fill the air till it looks all fine white dust. They say it winds round the lungs, and tightens them up. Anyhow, there’s many a one as works in a carding-room, that falls into a waste, coughing and spitting blood, because they’re just poisoned by the fluff.”
It was not that long ago that death by byssinosis was a fairly common occupational hazard. Gaskell’s book was published in the 1850s – and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that legislation addressed adequate ventilation in UK. Since then, of course, most textile work has been outsourced abroad – and along with it, occupational death.
“In our department, it’s full of jeans and black dust”, says one worker in the 2013 report Breathless For Blue Jeans: Health Hazards in China’s Denim Factories. “It is difficult to breathe.” The dust comes from sandblasting the denim to achieve a worn look. Although the practice has been banned, it continues behind locked doors, and workers continue to die from silicosis, a fatal lung disease.
Silicosis is not the only danger facing the modern factory worker. A 2014 study of garment workers in Bangladesh found “the majority” suffered from ill health, ranging from musculoskeletal disorders, through to hepatitis – this latter from a lack of clean drinking water. In Tansy Hoskin’s book Stitched Up, she reveals that in the Pearl River Delta in China some 40,000 fingers are severed each year in work-related accidents. And of course, this week sees the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.
Rudolf Jaenisch, MD, is a Founding Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and President, the International Society for Stem Cell Research. In this Time article, he calls for caution on a promising new technology:
It has been just over a half-century since scientists solved the structure of DNA, and since that time, we have been fascinated by what the DNA encodes, how it is passed on from one generation to the next and what makes each of us unique. Technologies to introduce DNA changes have been used to study the function of genes and the proteins they encode, to identify genetic causes of disease and to develop better ways to treat them. Now, new research describes the editing of genes in human embryos—CRISPR-cas9—raising questions about the science, the implications and the ethics.
The research utilizes recent technologies that allow us to make precise, targeted changes to a DNA sequence. These technologies have proved remarkable in their ease-of-use and have become quickly adopted by researchers around the world to introduce or correct changes in gene sequences in a wide range of cell types.
These recent developments have piqued the imagination of scientists and the public alike, and there is much speculation about what comes next. Some have suggested the new technology will allow researchers to “fix” defective genes, so inheritable diseases are not passed to the next generation, while others have raised worries about the creation of “designer” babies. Read More
Global scientists on Thursday (Apr 23) renewed calls to halt controversial research to genetically edit human embryos after a Chinese team published details of a stunted but breakthrough attempt in this new frontier in science.
First reported by Nature News on Wednesday, the paper by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, and colleagues appears in a little known online journal called Protein and Cell.
In it, researchers describe how they edited the genomes of embryos obtained from a fertility clinic.
The embryos were non-viable, and could not have resulted in a live birth because they had an extra set of chromosomes after being fertilised by two sperm.
Researchers “attempted to modify the gene responsible for beta-thalassemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9,” said the report in Nature News.
The researchers injected 86 embryos and waited 48 hours for the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act.
Seventy-one embryos survived, and 54 of those were tested. Researchers found that only 28 were “successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material,” said the report.
“If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100 per cent,” Huang was quoted as saying. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.” Read More