Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 73-79)


31 JANUARY 2007

  Q73 Chairman: We welcome our second panel this morning and apologise profusely for the slightly late start. We were late starting on the previous session so my apologies. We welcome Ms Shirley Harrison, the new chair of HFEA, and you are very welcome to the Committee; Angela McNab, the chief executive of HFEA; and Professor Neva Haites, an executive member of HFEA.

  Professor Haites: I am just a professional member.

  Q74  Chairman: We had some difficulty, as a Committee, trying to understand, or get a clear definition, what we are talking about in terms of the research which Professor Armstrong and Professor Shaw were applying for through their research programmes about which there is some concern. We had definitions of hybrids and chimeras which are the basis of the Government's own work and the basis of your own piece of research and public consultation. We have then had descriptions which have ranged from interspecies embryos to cybrids, to pseudo-hybrids. What would be your clear definition of what we are talking about when we are putting together material from animals and humans in this experimentation?

  Ms Harrison: One of the things we would like in the new Act is for there to be absolutely clear definitions. As you say, there is a whole spectrum of what we are talking about.

  Q75  Chairman: What is yours?

  Ms Harrison: I will pass to Neva to give an explanation of what she feels the spectrum is.

  Professor Haites: I think you very well described there the spectrum. As I presume you have been discussing with the scientists here, we range already from transgenic constructs, where we have a small piece of a different animal's DNA within another species cell to create early embryos, right up to the potential of having the hybrids and the chimeras where you have virtually the whole of a human genome placed within the egg of another species and where you have a predominance of the other species mitochondria, in your hybrid case, and, in your chimera case, where there is the potential to have whole cells of two different species in the one potential embryo.

  Q76  Chairman: There are two areas of research which are coming from Newcastle and Kings which have created a question mark as far as HFEA is concerned. What would be the strategic definition which you feel we, as a Committee, should be using and perhaps should be recommending to government?

  Professor Haites: Unfortunately I have not seen either of those applications because, as you know, we have put those on ice for the moment to delay actually reading them and making a decision of any description. I am afraid I am not in any way cognisant with those applications.

  Q77  Dr Turner: Can I clarify an answer you just gave, Professor Haites? I understood from what you were saying that somatic cell transfer you were describing as a hybrid whereas no scientist would regard a hybrid as being a combination of two sets of DNA; in fact, the somatic cell transfer is simply the implantation of a complete set of one individual's DNA. We have already discussed the fact that there seems to be some confusion in terminology and there seems to be some confusion in your answer. Can you clarify that?

  Professor Haites: I am sorry if that is the case. What I was trying to refer to was the nuclear DNA, be it from another species or another person, being transferred into the enucleated egg that still contains the mitochondrial DNA of that other species or other human.

  Q78  Dr Turner: You are calling that a hybrid.

  Professor Haites: I am calling that the start of a potential hybrid embryo.

  Dr Turner: There is clear disagreement there.

  Q79  Adam Afriyie: The evidence we have had so far, just to restate it now, is that some of these hybrids or chimera would be 99.9% human DNA, in which case the entity would fall under a different set of legislation I imagine.

  Ms Harrison: That is one of the issues we are trying to establish. Part of the consultation we are trying to establish is does what is being proposed fall within our remit. Clearly there are legal issues as well as scientific issues.

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