British genes in Nobel science

13th August 2004 at 01:00
In his letter, Mike Follows writes that Americans have almost single-handedly driven research in genetics and that Francis Crick is our only Nobel laureate in this area (TES, July 16). Neither claim is true.

Crick not only shared his 1962 medicine prize for elucidating the structure of DNA with James D Watson but another Briton, Maurice Wilkins. Rosalind Franklin would have shared the prize but for her death - the prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

Many British geneticists have won the medicine or chemistry prizes since then, including in recent years Richard Roberts (1993), Tim Hunt and Sir Paul Nurse (2001), John Sulston and Sydney Brenner (2002).

Many breakthroughs in genetics of forensic and commercial importance, which don't fit into the Nobel categories, have been made by Britons. For example, the technique of genetic fingerprinting was developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester.

I am fully in favour of teaching pupils about the nature of scientific knowledge provided that schools adopt a consistent approach, and do not, for reasons of religion, treat the theory of evolution as a special case. I am not convinced that this is so in schools funded by the VardyEmmanuel School Foundation.

If the foundation wishes to deliver a first-class science education, it should ensure that science is taught in a consistent manner by, for example, teaching pupils alternatives to the atomic theory of matter and the theory of plate tectonics as well alternatives to the theory of evolution.

Stephen Downes 14 Reynolds Way Liverpool

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