23/07/2014

Utopia recap: series two, episode three

Posted by MereNews On July - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Spoiler alert – this blog is for viewers who have seen the third episode of the second series of Utopia on Channel 4. Catch up with the earlier episodes here.

Click here to read Richard’s episode two blog.

‘Janus – you’re all going to die’

Some more massive revelations this week: the mumbling Anton turns out to be the long-lost Philip Carvel, Dugdale is working for the Network, and Ian finds out about Becky and Donaldson …

‘Carvel’s alive?’

Is Milner losing it? After all her steely toughness, it’s unsettling to see Milner’s sentimentality over Jessica throwing her off her game. Of course, “sentimentality” is a relative quality when you’ve got the daughter of a long-lost love locked up in a cage and you’re contemplating slicing her brain open, but still – for Milner this feels like a weird place to be in. She’d hoped that Hide/Hyde would talk before they had to resort to slicing her open to find the “adjustment”, which means that Milner has put the whole project in jeopardy, and there’s no plan B. Odd that she referred to Jessica as her “only” connection to Philip when she’s got Arby working for her again. As scary Network compadre Leah (Sylvestra Le Touzel) keeps reminding her, the time frame for launching V Day (and Janus) has been pushed back as far as it can go. Milner relents and sends Jessica off to have her brain sliced open – which doesn’t quite go to plan. (A quick note for any Network operatives reading: if you have to ask a question like, “Should we call security?” then you probably should think about another line of work.) How will Ian’s phone call change things for Milner? She learns that Carvel is alive, but she also fluffs it with Ian and now he knows that she’s been lying to him all along.

‘Ben! Some friends for you!’

Thanks to Arby’s dark-web specialist Ben (a teenage hacker with some very accommodating parents), the gang decode Donaldson’s offhand remark to his old professor – the reason he’s on the Network’s hit list. “Jimmy Deeshel is Fatman” refers to “Jimmy Deesh: L”, an abandoned project from the people who “weaponised ebola in the 60s”; Fatman is a reference to the bomb dropped by the US on Nagasaki at the end of the second world war. The Network’s plan is to unleash a real strand of flu, causing a panic big enough to convince the world to take the V-Day vaccine.

‘Suicide’s not going to work’

Lee’s routine maintenance ruse to check out Ian’s office is rumbled by cycle-loving boss Joe, who’s just sharp enough to spot that “DCI Taylor” is clearly up to no good. Of course, rumbling Lee isn’t really something you can hope to get away with for too long (seconds, in fact). Lee’s solution – making Ian the fall guy for his boss’s untimely murder – ramps up the pressure for the band on the run.

‘There are no sides, just people who help you’

Arby wanted three new sets of identities – for himself, Amanda and Tess. He’s got an exit strategy. For all his talk of turning over a new leaf, he’s still capable of pulling the trigger when he has to – something that the Network’s newest recruit, Wilson Wilson, isn’t quite capable of; even when it’s the spoon-wielding Lee. Talk about uncomfortable working relationships – do hope the Network has a solid HR department to help smooth things over between them. They could go places if they sort out their differences.

Notes, quotes and queries

• “We don’t need you to be prime minister.” Even though he’s convinced that V Day will be political suicide, MP Geoff plays along, putting on his best Cameron-smile for the cameras.

• Jessica’s escape – a freaky piggyback ride followed by a waste disposal chute – wasn’t the cleanest of exits, but it was effective. Nice to see she’s still got her knack for undercover chic. But will Dugdale turn her in too? What have the Network got on him? Have we found out what?

• Gruesome twosome – Becky and Donaldson! Is there no end to the weirdness on this show?

• “I made breakfast.” Grant is still refusing to eat heathily, turning down Arby’s “pigeon food” and grazing from the buffet laid on by hacker Ben’s parents.

• “Born geek” Bridget is played by Juliet Cowan, who played Tanya in Dennis Kelly’s BBC3 sitcom with Sharon Horgan, Pulling. Bridget knows her viruses though – there really was a 1969 flu pandemic in Hong Kong.

• The scene where Jessica jumps out of the waste disposal truck was one of the few to be soundtracked by a pop song instead of the Utopia OST. Bird of Paradise was a 1983 hit for Snowy White, a guitarist who has played with both Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd.

• What did you make of Anton? Are his drawings enough to convince you that he is Carvel? How do you see it playing out now that Milner has got an even stronger reason to hunt down the Experiments gang? Is a reunion on the cards? Or will Jessica – or Arby – realise that their dad is alive and kill him? And will V Day arrive before the end of the series?

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Usain Bolt believes anti-doping officials have sent a “bad message to the sport” after the US sprinter Tyson Gay received only a one-year ban following a positive test for an anabolic steroid.

“I’m not really happy with the situation and with how it was done,” Bolt said. “I think for someone like Asafa (Powell) to get a ban of 18 months for that (stimulant oxilofrine) and then Tyson Gay get just one year because of cooperating, I think it is sending a bad message into the sport that you can do it (dope) but, if you cooperate with us, we’ll reduce the sentence.”

The sanction, handed to Gay by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), ended in June this year.

Gay, who returned to competition on 3 July and ran 9.93 in the 100 metres at the Lausanne Diamond League meeting, is the world’s joint second fastest man along with Yohan Blake (9.69).

Both the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, have accepted the controversial ban.

“I don’t think that’s the right way to go because you are pretty much telling people that this is a way out, it’s a way of beating the system, so personally, I don’t think the IAAF dealt with that very well,” Bolt said.

Wada said in early June that it was satisfied with the decision while later that month the IAAF said that it would not appeal Gay’s ban.

“After careful review of the full file provided by Usada, the IAAF has decided that the one-year sanction applied in the case of Tyson Gay was appropriate under the circumstances and in accordance with IAAF Rules,” it said.

Athletes normally receive two-year bans for their first major doping offence but under anti-doping rules the sanction can be reduced for substantial cooperation.

Usada had said Gay was eligible for such a reduction because he offered what it termed “substantial assistance” in his case.

Blake, Jamaica’s double Olympic sprint silver medallist, has been ruled out for the rest of the 2014 season after undergoing surgery on an injured hamstring, his coach Glen Mills said on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old sustained the injury in the 100 metres at the Glasgow Grand Prix on 11 July.“Right now he’s on crutches. He had to have an operation a couple of days ago,” Mills said.

“The injury was quite severe and the original prognosis was misdiagnosed. He went to Germany and, when they had a good look, they realised it was more serious and required surgery. So he’ll be out for quite a long time.”

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The unexpected star of the World Cup finals, Colombia’s James Rodríguez, has signed for Real Madrid for a reported £63m.

The 23-year-old follows the signing of another key midfielder from the World Cup, Germany’s Toni Kroos who joined for a bargain £20m, and will be given the No10 shirt which was last worn by Mesut Özil.

He passed a medical in the Spanish capital on Tuesday morning and has agreed a six-year deal at the Bernabéu. He was presented to Real Madrid’s fans in their stadium on Tuesday night.

He emerged to a rapturous reception from a 45,000-strong crowd, around a third of whom were wearing Colombia shirts.

Then while he kicked balls into the crowd – as is traditional for new high-profile arrivals to do – he was rushed by several enthusiastic supporters and made a point of embracing them before they were ushered away by security.

He said: “I’ve always followed Real Madrid and always dreamed of playing here. I’ve suffered a lot to get here and when you do that then it tastes so much better.

“I will never forget this day. I hope to work hard, to train well, and to experience a lot of joy here. I know I am under a lot of pressure, but I am happy to face it.”

The fee makes Rodriguez the fourth most expensive transfer of all time after Real’s £86m for Gareth Bale and £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo, and Barcelona’s £75m for Luis Suárez.

“The numbers mean nothing to me,” he said. “I just want to help make history and bring joy to the Madrid fans.

“This is a club which is used to winning and I’m prepared mentally and physically to do so. It is a pleasure to be among so many stars and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from everyone.”

Rodríguez was one of the revelations of the World Cup, scoring in each of Colombia’s games as they reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time, eventually losing 2-1 to the hosts Brazil.

He scored six goals at the World Cup to finish as the leading scorer – one clear of Thomas Müller – while his 25-yard volley against Uruguay was voted goal of the tournament.

James Rodriguez medical
Rodriguez gives the thumbs up at his medical. Photograph: Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Rodríguez began his professional career with the Colombian side Envigado before moving to the Argentinian club Banfield aged 17. His performances attracted the attention of Porto, who signed him for £4m in 2010, and three years later he joined Monaco for £38.5m after helping the Portuguese side win a hat-trick of league titles and the 2011 Europa League.

The left-footed forward scored 10 goals in 38 matches in all competitions for Monaco last season as they finished second in Ligue 1 behind Paris Saint-Germain.

James Rodriguez volley
Rodriguez’s volley against Uruguay was voted goal of the World Cup. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AFP/Getty Images

Monaco said they had not been looking to sell Rodríguez but described the deal as “one of the most significant transfers in football history”.

“The club would like to take the opportunity to thank James for the role he played in getting the club back to the Champions League and wishes him the very best for the future,” they said.

“The club had no intention to sell the player, however the time came when the solution of a transfer was considered to be the most beneficial solution for all parties.

A fan is grabbed by security guards as he tries to embrace the new Real Madrid player James Rodrguez
A fan is grabbed by security guards as he tries to embrace the new Real Madrid player James Rodríguez Photograph: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP

“Monaco is proud to be a party to one of the most significant transfers in football history. Monaco is a club that will continue to grow and remains focused on the future. More than ever it has the ambition to strengthen the team and continue to progress for next season.”

The announcement had been delayed as Real and Monaco struggled over the small print in the deal with Monaco’s owner Dmitry Rybolovlev holding out for €85m, according to L’Equipe.

Monaco were keen to sign Diego López in part exchange but the goalkeeper did not want to leave. Real are expected to sign the Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas for £8m as their No1 after the European champions agreed to meet the release clause in his contract at Levante.

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More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sites for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.

The MPs demand tighter controls on weapons sales to authoritarian regimes, saying that more than 3,000 export licences for arms worth £12bn were approved for 28 countries cited by the Foreign Office for their poor human rights records. They include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sri Lanka.

Sir John Stanley, former Conservative defence secretary and chairman of the Commons arms control committees, said there was evidence that appeared to directly contradict the prime minister’s claim that he had already stopped all arms exports to Russia.

Stanley told the Guardian that the prime minister’s statement appeared to be a “major policy change”.

Stanley had already written to Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, asking him to explain why, according to official figures given to the MPs, of 285 current licences for Russia, only 34 had been suspended or revoked.

They cover items worth at least £132m but almost certainly significantly more since equipment approved by “open licences” is not counted individually.

Stanley referred to a carefully-worded statement to the Commons by William Hague on 18 March, when the then foreign secretary said the UK would immediately suspend licences just for items “destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine”.

In the Commons on Monday Cameron told MPs: “Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain.”

The prime minister added: “On the issue of defence equipment, we already unilaterally said – as did the US – that we would not sell further arms to Russia; we believe other European countries should do the same.”

These statements are at odds with the information given to MPs on his committees, Stanley made clear.

The MPs also say the government “would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights”.

It asks the government to explain why it has approved arms exports to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories including for “anti-riot/ballistic shields”, components for combat vehicles, small arms, sniper rifles, and military communications equipment.

The MPs say they have been unable to complete a report of its detailed scrutiny of government policy since 2004 on the export to Syria of dual-use chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons.

They say the government has refused to disclose the names of the companies to whom export licences were granted unless the MPs undertook to take evidence from the companies in private.

They describe the Labour government’s decision to approve five export licences to Syria for chemicals which could be used for weapons between July 2004 and May 2010 as “highly questionable”. The decision of the coalition government to approve two export licences for dual-use chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 “was irresponsible”, the report adds.

It says the most significant change in the government’s policy on arms exports over the past year is the dropping of the wording in the arms sales criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”.

That wording “represents an important safeguard against UK arms exports being used for internal repression” and should be reinstated, the MPs say.

The government “should apply significantly more cautious judgments when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression”, the report by the four Commons committees concerned with arms exports – business, defence, foreign affairs and international development – concludes.

On Tuesday night a UK government spokesperson said: “This government has never exported missiles or missile parts to the Russian military. The UK has granted an export licence for the Brazilian navy which enables their vessels to be repaired in 23 countries around the world, including Russia. This covers a wide range of equipment, including components for navy vessel missile launchers but these are exclusively for use by the Brazilian navy and not by Russian forces.”

The spokesperson added: “In March the former foreign secretary announced the suspension of all export licences to the Russian armed forces for any equipment that could be used against Ukraine. This report covers exports in 2013 before the suspension was in place. The majority of export licences that remain in place for Russia are for commercial use but we are keeping all licences under review.”

The spokesperson continued: “We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.”

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Employers in the UK are taking on more work experience students, expanding their graduate schemes and looking to hire more apprentices, according to new research that predicts youth unemployment will fall over coming months.

The jobless rate among 16- to 24-year-olds is still several times the UK’s overall unemployment rate but there are signs employers’ attitudes towards young employees are starting to shift, says a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The trade group for the human resources sector, points out that the recent fall in youth unemployment is not so much down to a significant pick up in young people getting jobs than a decreasing population of 18-24 year olds, more of whom are choosing to stay in full-time education. But the CIPD is optimistic that employers who used words like “lazy” and “clueless” about young people when it first launched research into the area two years ago have changed their tune.

Its latest report suggests four in 10 employers now offer work experience and over a third have increased their provision in the last year. It also found more employers were providing mentoring to young jobseekers, a greater proportion were working with local schools and a growing number were providing apprenticeships.

Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at CIPD, welcomed signs that employers had moved on from blaming schools for failing to prepare young people for work.

“Today, we are pleased to see that the public debate focuses very much on the difficult education-to-work transition young people face when they first enter the labour market and it’s great to see so many employers stepping up their efforts to engage with young people, realising that they cannot sit back and expect to be passive consumers of the education system,” she said.

The group is calling on employers to do more still to help young people make the transition into work but wants action from the government too, particularly on providing higher quality careers guidance and more high-quality apprenticeships.

A separate report today also paints a picture of rising employment but warns that the recent “jobs boom” is a risk from growing skills shortages.

Employers are twice as confident about the economy as they were this time last year and many intend to take on more staff in coming months, according to the latest survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). But companies are increasingly worried about getting the skilled workers they need, according to a poll of 600 employers.

A third of employers predict a shortage of engineers to fill permanent and temporary technical and engineering jobs. Skills needs were also a key factor in businesses taking on temporary agency staff. Almost two thirds of employers across all sectors said they used agency workers because temporary staff provide ‘short term access to key strategic skills’, a more popular answer than ‘covering leave’, ‘responding to growth’ or ‘keeping running costs down’.

“Employers are going to have to work harder to attract candidates as the labour market booms and competition for talent hots up. Skilled individuals are scarce in technology, engineering, construction and HGV driving, and companies are already increasing pay to encourage people to jump ship and join their workforce,” said REC chief executive Kevin Green.

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The government’s controversial system for assessing whether hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants with a disability or long term illness are “fit for work” is so flawed that it should be scrapped and completely redesigned, a committee of MPs has said.

The employment and support allowance (ESA) system is crude, simplistic and failing to fulfil its intended purpose of helping claimants back into work, the commons work and pensions select committee said on Wednesday.

It describes the test used to determine ESA eligibility – the work capability assessment (WCA) – as frequently inaccurate, and notes that many claimants who undergo it report it as a “stressful and anxiety-provoking experience.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this year negotiated an early exit from the existing WCA contract with the private firm, Atos, after raising concerns about the quality of its work. But the committee says that simply changing the provider will not in itself lead to improvements in the system.

Its report says: “The flaws in the existing ESA system are so grave that simply ‘rebranding’ the WCA by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems: a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process is required.”

The committee acknowledges the scale and complexity of determining eligibility for an incapacity benefit claimed by millions of people but urges ministers to put a redesigned system in place by 2018, when a completely new delivery contract is introduced.

The current system is too simplistic, and too often fails to recognise the complex health barriers to work faced by claimants, the report says. There have been hundreds of thousands of appeals against WCA decisions in recent years, clogging up tribunals at a cost of £60m a year. At least four out of 10 appeals succeed.

It adds: “This redesign needs to focus on what the purpose of ESA is – helping people back to work”.

The disability minister Mark Harper said that the government was currently undertaking the fifth review of the WCA since it was introduced in 2008, during which time “numerous improvements” to the test had been made.

He added: “We are bringing in a new provider and a new contract for work capability assessments to deliver the best possible service for claimants, increase the number of assessments and reduce waiting times.”

The ESA system has become increasingly controversial in recent years, generating a groundswell of public concern about its accuracy and effectiveness that ministers largely ignored until this year when tensions between the DWP and Atos – which had come to see the £100m a year contract as a poisoned chalice – came to a head.

The committee took evidence from a large number of ESA claimants about their experiences. “Many reported feeling dehumanised, ignored or questioned inappropriately. Some felt that the progress they were making towards recovery, and then moving back into work, was hampered rather than aided by the anxiety caused in facing the WCA.”

Rosanna Singler, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said the committee was “absolutely right” to call for a fundamental overhaul of WCA, which she described as “unfit for purpose”.

Mark Winstanley, the chief executive of charity Rethink Mental Illness, said ministers had to stop “dragging their heels” over reforming the system. “This report represents yet another blow to the failing assessment process. It comes after repeated independent reviews have exposed huge flaws in the system and a court ruling last year found that the current assessment is unfair for people with mental health problems.””

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Arsène Wenger has agreed a £3m deal for Colombia’s World Cup goalkeeper David Ospina from Nice. The Arsenal manager has moved to fill the gap in his squad that was created by Lukasz Fabianski’s Bosman transfer to Swansea City at the end of last season and he has told Ospina that he wants him to compete with Wojciech Szczesny for the starting position.

Ospina, 25, played in each game of Colombia’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals, where they were beaten by Brazil and he impressed with his reflexes and command on crosses.

Wenger has already spent £31m on the Chile forward Alexis Sánchez from Barcelona and £12m on the France right-back Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle United and, as he prepares to take the squad to the United States for Saturday’s friendly against the New York Red Bulls, he anticipates further business.

One of his most pressing issues concerns the future of the club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, who is due to report back for pre-season training on Monday. The Belgium central defender is a target for Manchester United, who are confident of signing him, given his unhappiness at his place in the pecking order at Arsenal. Vermaelen, who has one year to run on his contract, has slipped below Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

Wenger has asked for either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling to be included as a makeweight in any deal with United for Vermaelen. He is a confirmed admirer of both defenders, having tried to sign them before they moved to Old Trafford from Blackburn Rovers and Fulham respectively. Wenger considers it a bonus that each of them could provide cover at right-back.

Wenger has given extended leave until 11 August to his three Germany World Cup winners – Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski – meaning that they will miss the Community Shield against Manchester City at Wembley on 10 August and stand to lack match fitness for the beginning of the Premier League season; Arsenal open at home to Crystal Palace on 16 August.

Wenger prefers to give his players a four-week break after a major summer championship – Germany beat Argentina in the World Cup final on 13 July – although they do have the option of returning earlier if they so wish. Jack Wilshere, the England midfielder, was scheduled to report on Monday but he came back last week.

Arsenal’s France World Cup players – Debuchy, Koscielny and Olivier Giroud – are to return on Monday, when Wenger takes the squad to Austria for a short training camp before they return to London for next weekend’s Emirates Cup. Sánchez will link up at some point next week and he could get his first run-out in Arsenal’s colours in one of their matches at the tournament. They face Benfica on Saturday, 2 August, and Monaco the following day.

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A police force has warned schoolchildren who share so-called “sexts” with friends over the internet that they could face prosecution in the criminal courts.

In a letter sent to schools in Nottinghamshire, the county’s sexual exploitation investigation unit said officers were receiving reports on a daily basis of naked images being sent between teenagers using mobile phones.

In one recent case cited in the letter, a teenage girl who sent a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend was investigated after being deemed to have distributed an indecent image of a child.

The girl’s boyfriend, who forwarded the image to friends after they split up, is reported to have received a caution.

In the letter sent to school officials, Det Insp Martin Hillier warns that court action for such offences may even see a child forced to register as a sex offender.

The officer wrote: “I have grave concerns over the amount of referrals Nottinghamshire police are receiving on a daily basis in relation to naked images being sent between teenagers via either social networking, texts or mobile phone apps. It is crucial that children (under 18 years) understand that every internet site and social networking site is monitored by an administrator.

“When photographs that fall within the category of an indecent image (even if taken with consent) are uploaded, reports are made by the administrators to the police. If a person is aged over 10yrs and distributes (shares – even to friends) an indecent image then they can be arrested, charged and dealt with for this offence. If they are found guilty they must then register as a sex offender.”

Stressing that images are almost impossible to remove from the internet after they have been uploaded, the officer added: “An individual’s online reputation needs protecting as it stays with them for the rest of their life. I would like to make every school in Nottinghamshire aware of these offences and the implications of pupils’ involvement in such behaviour.”

A “sext” is defined as a self-generated explicit image which is sent to other people over the internet.

In January this year, Nottinghamshire county council’s anti-bullying coordinator, Lorna Naylor, warned youngsters that such images could leave them open to blackmail.

Naylor said: “They can be deleted on social media or may only last a few seconds on apps like Snapchat, but images can still be saved or copied by others.

“These images may never be completely removed and could be found in the future, for example when applying for jobs or university. Young people may think ‘sexting’ is harmless but it can leave them vulnerable to blackmail where someone may threaten to share the pictures with family and friends unless they send money or more images.”

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Safety concerns remain over three-person IVF

Posted by MereNews On July - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Later this year, parliament is expected to debate a change to the law that would allow a reproductive therapy called mitochondrial replacement (MR) into fertility clinics. A recent review of evidence by the UK fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, stated that this experimental technique is “not unsafe”. But while the aim of the procedure is noble – to eliminate human mitochondrial diseases, which affect around 1 in 4,000 people – a number of important safety concerns remain unresolved.

Evolutionary theory predicts a mismatch between the DNA in the donor’s mitochondria and the mother’s nuclear DNA, with potentially serious and unpredictable consequences for any embryo created using MR, an issue my colleagues and I wrote about last year. When MR is carried out experimentally, it has been shown to alter the metabolism and cognitive ability of mice. In other species it results in male sterility, reduced survival, accelerated ageing and changes the expression of many hundreds of genes. But there is a lack of data from species more closely related to humans – a gap in our knowledge that we felt would be wise to fill before proceeding to clinical trials.

The problem of mismatching arises because of the peculiar way mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited through mothers only, giving an opportunity every generation for the mtDNA and some of her nuclear DNA to be passed on together. This allows natural selection, nature’s quality control mechanism, to weed out combinations of interacting mitochondrial and nuclear DNA that are not compatible with one another. Over long evolutionary timescales within populations, the two genomes will become matched or “coadapted” to one another. MR breaks these coadapted genomes apart, giving rise to a range of damaging effects. The particular design of the experiments needed to detect mismatching is especially important. They usually involve manipulating several distinct mitochondrial types and making observations in many individuals. Without these features the ability to detect mismatching is poor. So while demonstrations that MR is technically feasible (with the production of four macaques in 2009), it is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that the kinds of effects seen in other species will not be found in primates or humans.

The HFEA appear unconvinced that the coevolutionary process for which there is evidence is real, considering “such hypothetical problems to be very unlikely”.

The report, passed to the Department of Health on the 2 June 2014, discusses several other technical issues related to the safety of the technique, and even outlines a number of areas for which more data is required. But for the issue of mismatching, they do not recommend any further research. This is concerning, as it appears a reasonable safety concern is being ignored.

From my perspective as an evolutionary biologist, a common thread in the debate so far is that humans are somehow special cases, despite the fact that the same set of mitochondrial genes are found from yeast to humans, and that the evolutionary theory is a general one, applying even to plants. This suggests to me that greater exposure to and integration of current evolutionary ideas in the training of biomedical scientists would be beneficial. This is not a new suggestion; a whole discipline called Darwinian medicine is slowly gaining traction, with the aim of giving medical professionals the ability to better predict disease risk.

It also seems that if evolutionary biologists were included earlier in the consultation process, there may have been more cautious conclusions about the safety of MR. The inertia behind the regulatory process, together with the resistance from biomedical researchers to consider evolutionary arguments, is substantial. I suggest that in the future policy makers would do well to cast a broader net when looking for expertise and evolutionary biologists themselves should engage more with policy makers.

Scientists are frequently urged to become more involved in developing evidence-based policy, and so it is somewhat perplexing to see that when theory and evidence are presented they are roundly dismissed as irrelevant or trivial. Evolutionary biology can offer a great deal of understanding about the world around us, including ourselves. We should make use of that knowledge.

Ted Morrow is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sussex

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/3cc17758/sc/7/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cscience0C20A140Cjul0C220Cthree0Eperson0Eivf0Emitochondria0Edna/story01.htm

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