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The Century of Mendelism
  1. Victor A McKusick

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    Editors Robert A Peel, John Timson. London: The Galton Institute. 2000. ISBN 0 950 40666 X.

    This is a collection of elegantly written, informed, and informative essays on some current issues of genetics in relation to society, health, and other matters. Most of these were papers read at the 2000 annual conference of the Galton Institute. The general topic “The Century of Mendelism” is introduced appropriately by Peter J Bowler’s “Rediscovery of Mendelism”, which expresses doubts that it really was rediscovery, but rather discovery with reversion to Mendel’s findings as support of the results.

    Bowler, like others before him starting with Curt Stern in 1967, also questions the significant of Tschermak’s role in the “rediscovery”. Mark Ridley in “Genetics in the new millennium” covers some of the same territory as in his “Mendel’s Demons” (2000).

    The Galton Lecture was given by Robert G Resta on “Genetic counselling - its scope and limitations”. To Madge Macklin he attributes invention of the designation “medical genetics”, in the 1930s. He gives the date of Lejeune’s discovery of trisomy 21 as 1957 (not 1959) and refers to Victor McKusick as a paediatrician. These are minor errors; on the whole, the discussion of the goals of genetic counselling and its limitations, as well as the question of whether genetic counselling should always be non-directive, is balanced.

    In Colin Tudge’s essay on “Problems of genetic engineering”, he suggests it might better be called “genetic gardening”, particularly when referring to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). He gives a discussion of ethics and morality unexpected in such a presentation. He looks, for example, at the great principles underlying the major religions, as given by Ramakrishna: humility, respect for fellow human beings and other fellow sentient creatures, and reverence for the Universe.

    Sandy Raeburn discussed genetic issues in insurance and employment and how to prevent unfair discrimination.

    The Galton Institute is not to be confused with the Galton Laboratory. The latter designation was coined by Lionel Penrose in 1954 to describe the department at University College London that was originally called the Department of Eugenics. Penrose used it on his headed notepaper until the name of the department was changed to Department of Genetics in 1956. Many who worked in the Galton Laboratory in the 1950s and since have intense affection and loyalty for that name. The Galton Institute evolved about 10 years ago from the National Institute of Eugenics which was established at University College London from a bequest of Francis Galton (1822-1911). As stated by the cover blurb, the “Galton Institute is a learned society founded in 1907. Its four hundred members are drawn from a wide range of disciplines including the biological and social sciences, medicine, law, and administration. One-fifth live abroad. The Institute holds an annual conference ... and publishes the proceedings. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter. Membership of the Institute is open to all who support its aims” [which are not stated in the blurb].

    The current president of the Galton Institute, Professor J S (Steve) Jones of UCL, is definitely not a eugenicist but is an effective communicator and leading ambassador for human genetics to the public.

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