Julian Huppert flummoxes the Commons

Cometh the hour, cometh the person.

In yesterday’s House of Commons debate on DNA, it was a great opportunity for one of our small number of scientist MPs to bring forth their knowledge.

As the Independent reports, our very own Julian Huppert obliged:

Thank heavens for Julian Huppert, the brainy former research scientist and Liberal Democrat member for Cambridge, who pointed out that mitochondria were once free-living bacteria, which, in the dim and distant primordial era of life, had set up home in other free-living microbes – eventually evolving into people, including the assembled members.

This is why the DNA of the mitochondria have a completely different origin from the DNA of the human chromosomes, Mr Huppert said, a statement which somewhat flummoxed the rest of the House.

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  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Feb '15 - 4:10pm

    I think we all know that Dr Huppert is a particular favourite of LDV editors but I can’t see what this point adds, except that we are the products of a long evolution.

    It seems to me to be a pretty reductionist argument to ask us to accept a radical technique of IVF on the grounds of ‘we are the products of evolution,’ so what’s all the fuss about?

    That’s an argument for accepting a lot of other procedures, many of which may not be so desirable and just as invasive. After all from this perspective, science is always equated with progress and not with any undesirable side effects.

    I think there is something called ethics involved for society- as it is now.

  • paul barker 4th Feb '15 - 6:01pm

    @ Paul Walter. Thats not quite correct, the genes in mitochondria play an extremely important role in running the internal chemistry of our cells. I think Hupperts point was more about the way that natural processes have already done a great deal of genetic engineering on us. Another example is that a lot of the genes in our chromosomes seem to have peen put there by viruses in the past; theres a general assumption that most of those genes dont do anything but we are a very long way from being sure about that.

  • The church was wrong to go against it

  • Helen Tedcastle 4th Feb '15 - 6:51pm

    @ Edward Thompson

    Nothing wrong with dissent. Ethical questions need to be asked, even if you disagree.

    @ paul barker

    Yes I agree but it’s a strange sort of point. Of course we are the products of our evolution and genes mutate. This seems to me to an interesting but not a substantial point in a debate about the ethics of a procedure. It seems to me to be a fairly typical reductionist argument which states, we’re already the products of mutations and genetic changes so why not hurry it all up a bit? It’s the kind of point I would expect from a scientist, which is why I am rather glad these issues are discussed by ethicists, politicians and theologians who have a perspective which accounts for the effects on society.

  • Julian Huppert makes the simple point that mitochondrial DNA being circular, not protein bound and prokaryotic in character is not chromosomal DNA. Anyone unaware of this is unqualified to debate the topic.

  • Toby Keynes 5th Feb '15 - 8:54am

    I fear this discussion demonstrates once again how pear-shaped things can go when a scientist tries to inject some science into a debate dominated by non-scientists.
    But please, Julian, don’t give up!

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '15 - 12:13pm

    @ Martin
    ‘Anyone unaware of this is unqualified to debate the topic.’ Oh dear.

    Yes Huppert made a simple point which even unworthy non-scientists can grasp.

    This is the kind of reductionist viewpoint which does not move the debate forward. It simply closes it down in a very undemocratic way.

    @ Toby Keynes
    ‘ I fear this discussion demonstrates once again how pear-shaped things can go when a scientist tries to inject some science into a debate dominated by non-scientists.’

    How so? If you fear that then you fear debate – rather strange on a liberal democrat site. Why is discussion of ethics something to be feared? In my experience scientists may not be good at debating ethics but they realise that in a society, it is necessary. Don’t you?

  • The mitochondria DNA do not affect the characteristics of cell. It is like swapping a different battery in a computer – the computer would perform exactly the same way, while changing other components would affect performance.

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