Blazing a trail for science

THE 3 billion bits of the human genetic code are deciphered, and the international reserves of hyperbole drained. A trio of girls from one of Edinburgh's comprehensive schools graduate with firsts in biological sciences at Oxford, and become part of Chancellor Brown's debate about elitism. In the reshaping of expectations about the human future now the genetic code is cracked, are we also going to see a reordering of subject choices and careers?

There must be a desire on the part of some bright teenagers to become involved in the next stage of the genetic revolution - the plundering of the immense amount of information, logged in the equivalent of 200 telephone directories, for the really valuable prizes in medicine and pharmacy. This week's announcement has ben compared to the first landing of man on the moon. That and the earlier launch of the first sputnik brought a surge of interest in rocket science. More mundanely, Internet hype inspires young computer buffs and television series about cows' foetuses and horses' fetlocks put pressure on veterinary courses.

It is not just the cutting edge of science that attracts. With genetics comes ethics: debates about the morality of interfering with nature's age-old ways are fascinating to many pupils. They see links between the issues that flow from this and those sprouting from fields of genetically modified wheat. The sciences, a recent turn-off in secondary schools, may be due for a revival born of a mixture of inquisitive enthusiasm and deep seated concerns.


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