Genetic engineering the answer to world peace?

The Nation - Thursday, April 08, 2004

Might there be a short cut to world peace? This was the question on the minds of audience members who attended the lecture by Nobel Laureate for Chemistry Professor Robert Huber, organised by the International Peace Foundation at Chulalongkorn University yesterday.

One person suggested that Huber, a pioneer in the development of protein crystallography methods that led to the elucidation of protein structures, should try to single out a protein that reinforces the peaceful characteristics of human beings and bring peace to the world.

Huber was quick to point out that this would be tantamount to genetic engineering and there would be many other problems, the biggest being that there is no such gene and there are thousands of factors involved in creating peaceful people and environments.

Families, schools and universities, said Huber, should be peaceful places from which peace can spread.

A scientist with a love for his profession, Huber, a former director of the world-renowned Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry, suggested that science had a role to play in fostering peace by making medical, health and other scientific advances.

There is one caveat, however: people should do what they like to do without expecting a reward or thinking of exploiting opportunities.

“They should do what they like to do, but with dedication,” he said.

Huber, who is German, grew up during the Second World War. As a child, he spent nine hours per week learning Latin and another six hours a week mastering Greek.

But it was chemistry that sparked his imagination, and he tried to read all the books available to him, eventually becoming a pioneer scientist and winning the Nobel Prize in 1988.

Even today Huber speaks about protein structures with a sense of joyful discovery. “Each of these structures looked like a miracle,” he said of the various protein structures.

“Some look like fish others like medieval castles. Nature plays around with these bricks and builds various constructions – an architectural genius,” he said.

The lecture was one in a series of dialogues and lectures called “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace”.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation