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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2000

Benno Müller-Hill, Genetics Institute of Cologne University, Germany

Biography

Benno Müller-Hill was born in Freiburg i.Br., Germany in 1933. He studied chemistry in Freiburg and Munich. He worked for three years as a research fellow with Walter Gilbert in the laboratory of James Watson at Harvard University. In 1966, he isolated Lac repressor with Walter Gilbert, and in 1968 he became full professor at the Genetics Institute of Cologne University. His main area of research is protein-DNA interaction and gene control. He recently published a book entitled The lac Operon. A Short History of a Genetic Paradigm.

In 1984 he published a book ("Tödliche Wissenschaft") on the history of human genetics in Nazi Germany. The book has been translated into English (Murderous Science, Oxford University Press, 1988) and six other languages including Japanese and Hebrew. A paperback edition with an afterword by James Watson was recently published by Cold Spring Harbor Press.

He is an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO), the Acad emia Europaea and Honorary Fellow of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Abstract

Past and future of behavioural genetics

Human behavioural genetics had a bad past, particularly in Germany. Not much was known in the thirties. Guesswork was used to justify crime. Not much is known even now in the field, but this will change. Proper definitions of phenotypes will announce success. The phenotypes are still the domain of psychiatrists and pyschologists. At the moment phenotypes seem to me a muddle and the reason that success has been rather limited in this field of Human Genetics. Yet sooner or later this will change. Success will be reached when phenotypes can be correctly predicted from genotypes.

In the past, German psychiatrists did not hesitate to connect phenotypes with values. So it was their general habit to call schizophrenics minderwertig, leere HŽlsen or Ballastexistenzen. Then, as today, violent crime was regarded by human geneticists as a phenotype. Whole ethnic groups, like the Gypsies, were then believed to carry such alleles. After 1945 the counter-belief was announced that there are no genetic differences between ethnic groups with regard to behavioural genes. One avoided by that to state that genetically different persons should have equal rights. This dogma may break down soon. Therefore it is important that geneticists avoid connecting values with phenotypes and that they defend equal rights of genetically different persons. If they do not do so, we all may move into a global disaster.