Wednesday, October 02, 2002

EPO causes aplaisia [NYT]
"Frankly, I'm not sure we realized when we began just how difficult and complex this would become," said Per Peterson, the chairman of pharmaceuticals research at Johnson & Johnson. "But our knowledge is evolving, and we know much more today than we did a year ago."
This is a great parable. Should we have tested EPO for 20 years until we found a problem with it? No, the number of lives saved outweighs the problems. We should not take it off the market for the same reason. What the story indicates is the limitations of science. Biotechnology is based on luck, and chance (and of course a lot of hard work by people of varying intelligence). EPO is a protein discovered by chance, its functions dicovered by chance (or at least some of them), and the process of its synthesis was designed by chance. That's what trial and error is. And there's nothing wrong with that, it's the fucking definition of science. The problem is the vast number of scientists who want to hide that from you, or else don't even understand it themselves.

For example, a computer just predicted -- for the first time -- the shape of a protein molecule from its amino acid sequence. I bet you thought that kind of thing was something they did all the time. The chain, by the way, was 20 amino acids long. Again, look at the malaria/mosquito genomes:

Chris Curtis, Professor of Medical Entomology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who works on practical methods of controlling malaria, said: "I'm sceptical that the Anopheles mosquito genome will actually be useful in attempts to control malaria in very poor countries and I have a feeling that projects on the genome are done because molecular biologists think they can be done and are exciting to do. "The justifications are then added on afterwards. One suggestion is that one could make tailor-made insecticides. However I doubt if these would be affordable by governments with health budgets of $5 per head per year for all diseases." [BBC]

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