Nobel Laureate Perspective

The Egg and the Nucleus: A Battle for Supremacy

J. B. Gurdon


This brief introduction is followed by a published version of my Nobel Laureate lecture, re-published herein with the kind permission of the Nobel Foundation. Much has happened since my original research, for which that prize was awarded. Hence, I am pleased to offer a few thoughts about the future of my research and its possible impact on humankind. Although the original work on nuclear transfer and reprogramming was done over half a century ago, advances continue to be made. In particular the Takahashi and Yamanaka induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) procedure has opened up the field of cell replacement to a great extent. Now, more recently, further advances make this whole field come closer to actual usefulness for humans. Recently, in the UK, the government approved the use of mitochondrial replacement therapy to avoid the problems associated with genetically defective mitochondria in certain women. Although the House of Commons (members of Parliament) and the House of Lords had to debate and discuss whether to allow this kind of human therapy, I was very pleased to find that both bodies approved this procedure. This means that a patient can choose to make use of the procedure; it does not in any way force an individual to have a procedure that they are not comfortable with. In my view, this is a great advance in respect to giving patients a choice about the treatment they receive. I am told that the UK is the first country in the world to approve mitochondrial replacement therapy. Now that the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPr) technology is being widely used and works well, one can foresee that there will be those who wish to use this technology to make genetic changes to humans. For example, if a human has a gene that makes it susceptible to infection or any other disorder, the removal of that gene might give such a person immunity from that disease. If this gene deletion is done within the germ line, the genetic change will be inherited. However, one can imagine that various people will strongly object and say that this technology should not be allowed. I would very much hope that various regulatory bodies, governments, etc. will allow the choice to remain with the individual. I can see no argument for such bodies to make a law that removes any choice whatsoever by an individual.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2015;6(3):e0023