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Readers’ letters: Covid vaccines, Aberdeen market revamp and Aberdeen FC kits

Jayden Richardson of Aberdeen challenges for the ball with Daizen Maeda of Celtic in Scottish Premiership opener
Jayden Richardson of Aberdeen challenges for the ball with Daizen Maeda of Celtic in Scottish Premiership opener

Sir, – In a recent letter I mentioned historical near-disasters and current impending ones associated with technologies whose future effects were either unforeseen or ignored and asked whether we were following a similar path with genetic manipulation?

Professor Hugh Pennington responded with a “topical example” which Dr Alison Innes described as “lucid and informative”.

In the context of my question it was neither, so let me try again.

Prof Pennington will know that viruses are not living organisms in the sense that sheep or potatoes or even bacteria are.

They are fragments of genetic material and proteins, capable of interacting with a host organism’s cellular functions to replicate, creating often imperfect copies of themselves, which are then expelled to infect other hosts.

As the professor suggested, we can manipulate a virus’s genetic material to remove the capability for replication while maintaining that part which triggers our immune system. This is how some of the Covid vaccines were developed. This technique, which is extremely clever, has been around for a couple of decades and the reason Covid vaccines were available quickly is partly due to a reassessment of the risk to the recipient in the context of a deadly global pandemic, and an accelerated testing programme.

But let’s be clear, although it has been developed using gene-editing techniques the vaccine is not a genetically-manipulated organism.

It is theoretically possible, of course, to use the same techniques to create a deadly virus and some have suggested that’s the source of Covid, though I’m not aware of any evidence.

However, it would be extremely naive to believe no government is actively pursuing such research.

My original point (it seems so long ago) was in the context of genetically-modified potatoes, which contain elevated levels of Vitamin C.

This seems not just benign but beneficial but the plain truth is we have no clear way of modelling what the potential effects of releasing such organisms into the environment might have so no easy way of framing controlling legislation.

Some governments, in the absence of such modelling and clearly concerned about unforeseen and irreversible adverse outcomes, are wary of all such developments.

To answer Dr Innes’s point about why the Scottish Government didn’t ban Covid vaccines created by gene-editing techniques, they are clearly able to understand that the vaccine is not going to evolve into an uncontrollable monster.

I have asked for experts to contribute to a debate about what the risks of genetic manipulation might be and how we assess and control them.

Please let’s stop being silly and treat this extremely important and difficult subject with respect.

G Davidson, Birse, Aboyne.

Old Firm will be in charge yet again

Sir, – The huge gulf in financial terms between the Old Firm and the rest of the SPFL was again there for all to see on Sunday between the quality of players Celtic and Rangers can recruit and the other teams.

It is going to be another boring season of Old Firm domination, doubtful quality, expensive prices, biased Central Belt referees, and reporting. Where is the next Sir Alex Ferguson when we need him?

Bob Mackay, Silverburn Road, Aberdeen.

Lovelock was a scientific seer

Sir, – James Lovelock CH, FRS has died aged 103.

A scientist who, almost single-handedly, highlighted the inter-connectedness of surface processes on our planet. A maverick scientist, insightful polymath and futurist.

Well before Covid, he preferred to work productively from home in his own laboratory. If it didn’t exist, he invented it. He invented the electron-capture detector which found CFCs in the upper atmosphere leading to the discovery of the “ozone hole”.

He proposed the Gaia hypothesis in 1972. Gaia is the Earth’s control system. All living things interact with their surface non-living environment to keep the planet in balance – in the habitable zone.

The planet acts as a self-regulating system – a superorganism as the Scots geologist James Hutton described it in 1785.

Processes adapt through feedback. But he also predicted that this balance can be disturbed irreversibly – too much carbon dioxide and methane could tip the balance, for example. We are witnessing global warming and climate change now.

Throughout a long and varied career, including time spent working with Nasa, Lovelock made significant contributions to science and medicine. His nomination for election to the Royal Society in 1974 reads: “His work shows originality, simplicity and ingenuity.”

In his authorised autobiography, John Gribbin describes him as “visionary, inventor, radical, free-thinker and prophet whose prophecies are now coming true.” The Sunday Times once described Lovelock as the greatest scientific thinker of our time and the closest thing we had to an Old Testament prophet.

In his last book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (2019) he envisaged intelligent machines or cyborgs becoming the dominant life form on the planet.

So intelligent that they will collaborate with humans to keep the planet cool to ensure their own survival. Science fiction? Time will tell.

He joins the likes of Shakespeare having died on his birthday. He enjoyed life and family. A wonderfully productive life.

Bill Maxwell, Mar Place, Keith.

Market revamp a waste of money

Sir, – The UK Government’s £20 million pledge towards the new Aberdeen Market is at risk? Good!

We already have more empty shop units in the city centre and in at least four shopping centres than can be readily counted. So why build more?

The owner of Cafe 52 had the excellent idea of creating a green space on the market site.

This would make a welcoming, calm area and would perhaps see an end to the lunatic idea of pedestrianising part of Union Street, which denies those of limited mobility access to their city centre.

Margaret Duthie, Albury Road, Aberdeen.

Chance for small groups to cash in

Sir, – I am writing to let your readers know of a fund available to small groups that are not formally constituted and usually find it hard to access funds.

This government fund is being administered by About Dementia, part of Age Scotland, and it lets dementia-related groups with just a bank account and two signatures apply for money to enable them to become formal organisations thus opening up more funding streams such as the National Lottery.

The application form is online, which should not be a problem despite half a million over-50s Scots finding it hard to get online (Age Scotland’s own figures), as they should be able to use their local library to access the Internet.

I would be grateful if you could publish this letter so as to reach those not regularly online.

Martin Robertson, St Olave Place, Cruden Bay.

Tackle predators to save capercaillie

Sir, – The capercaillie, one of Scotland’s iconic members of the grouse family, once enjoyed plentiful numbers all over the Grampians but may now be gone within 10-20 years.

Many meetings, debates, and plans have been held about saving the capercaillie, along with endless sums of public money given to conservationist charities such as the RSPB.

All have failed to achieve anything to help save the capercaillie as their main interest is in protecting raptors and predators such as the pine marten, badgers and the like, which predate the capercaillie.

Until they are brought under control, the capercaillie has very little chance of survival.

Maybe it’s time other organisations and conservationists got the chance to show how, by controlling their predators in another area the capercaillie can be saved, without using vast sums of public money.

Patrick Sleigh, West Fingask, Oldmeldrum.

Protecting unborn is a worthy cause

Sir, – Last Saturday’s weekend supplement (July 23) singled out an American church for its allegedly aggressive behaviour on moral concerns.

While I would not align myself with the church in question, the issues its members were addressing were and are very serious indeed.

This week the P&J reported (July 27) on a pensioner who had been viciously attacked and injured by a seagull.

Yet while seagulls are protected by the law, unborn children can be aborted on demand.

Colin Wilson, Bellfield Road, North Kessock.

BBC bias shows in pick of presenters

Sir, – On the first day of the Commonwealth Games this household, with a particular interest in swimming, settled down to watch the events in the pool, brought to us by the state broadcaster, the BBC.

With years of preparation, and in the knowledge that, unusually, the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were all separately represented by their own teams, we might have expected a balanced team of presenters.

What did we get? Clare Balding, the (English) lead presenter, with her team of Rebecca Adlington (English Olympian swimmer); Mark Foster (English Olympian swimmer) and Ellie Simmonds (English Paralympic swimmer), while poolside commentary led by Adrian Moorhouse (English Olympic swimmer).

A good balance then, leavened by references to the English ladies football team and their appearance in a contest which I believe is not part of the Games programme.

Ken Gow, Bridge of Canny, Banchory.

Greed forces us to pay for jersey

Sir, – During an exciting women’s Euro 2022, it’s back to reality with the new season starting. It’s also back to greedy football reality for fans young and old to buy new kits to show they support their favourites.

Forget about the £4.10p pie, Aberdeen FC are charging £99 for a full adult kit, with a child’s shirt, shorts and socks costing £84! For a few metres of ghastly synthetic material and a sponsor’s logo. Yuk!

This shows what is wrong with football and it’s the poor parents or grandparents who must stump up who deserves our sympathy.

It’s not easy to say no when all the other mums, dads, grannies and grandas are saying yes.

How much are these kits actually being made for?

T Shirron, Davidson Drive, Aberdeen

Oil rig for tourists

I read with interest A Sutherland of Stonehaven’s letter regarding the old oil platform being towed to Weston-super-Mare.

So does this mean Aberdeen 0, Weston-super-Mare 1?

For many years I have been thinking why doesn’t Aberdeen Council create on the outskirts of the city an oil rig as a tourist attraction, where visitors could see round it and have a cafe and an information desk to tell all about the history of the oil industry?

This would be a great attraction, like the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel.