Will genetic research lead to breakthroughs in medicine and other scientific explorations without dehumanizing civilization? Or will it result in a sterile, amoral, technology-controlled society as depicted in Aldous Huxleys Brave New World?

Three nationally known speakers will attempt to answer these and other questions during this years Benedum Lecture Series at West Virginia University.

Implications of Genomics: The Potential and Peril is the theme for the lecture series, which will be held in October. The speakers will discuss issues ranging from genetic manipulation to the role of DNA in criminal investigations.

“As genetic research plunges ahead, we as a society should pause to consider the ramifications of such an undertaking,”said C.B. Wilson, associate provost for academic personnel.”These lectures provide an opportunity to do that.”

The lectures, which are free and open to the public, will begin at 8 p.m. in G24 Eiesland Hall. A reception will follow each lecture.

Lecture dates, speakers and topics are:

  • Thursday, Oct. 2 Jean B. Elshtain, political philosopher and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago, Will the Future Be Post-Human? The Possibilities and Peril of Genetic Manipulation
  • Thursday, Oct. 9 Allison A. Snow, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology, Ohio State University, An Ecologists View of Genetically Engineered Crops
  • Thursday, Oct. 16 Terry W. Melton, president and chief executive officer of Mitotyping Technologies, State College, Pa., Mitochondrial DNA : How the Smallest Human Genome Helps Exonerate and Convict

The Benedum Lecture Series is sponsored by the Claude Worthington Benedum Endowment and the Office of the Provost and coordinated by the Distinguished and Chaired Professors of WVU . This years lecture series will honor Benedum Professor Emeritus of Physics Bernard Cooper for his numerous contributions to the series since its inception.

In conjunction with the lecture series, the Provosts Office, with assistance from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences, will sponsor a student essay contest. The competition, open to all WVU undergraduate students on the Morgantown campus, will award prizes totaling $3,000. Essays should be related to the lecture seriestheme and be 1,500-2,500 words in length. They are due Thursday, Nov. 13. Three copies should be sent to Benedum Essay Competition, 210 Stewart Hall, WVU , P.O. Box 6203, Morgantown WV 26506 -6203.

Jean B. Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at The University of Chicago. She is the author of 19 books, including Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought (Choice Magazines top academic book of 1981), Meditations on Modern Political Thought, Power Trips and Other Journeys, Women and War, Democracy on Trial (a New York Times Notable Book 1995), Augustine and the Limits of Politics, Who Are We? Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities (winner of Theological Booksellers Best Book Award 2000), Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (2001), The Jane Addams Reader (2001) and Just War Against Terror (2003).

Elshtain is also the author of more than 500 articles and essays in scholarly journals and journals of civic opinion. In 1996, she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she is the recipient of nine honorary degrees. She is co-director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2002, she was awarded the Goodenow Prize of the American Political Science Association, the associations highest award for distinguished service to the profession.

Allison Snow is a professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University. She studies the ecological impacts of genetically engineered crops on natural and agricultural systems. Trained as a plant ecologist at the University of Massachusetts (Ph.D., 1982), she received postdoctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation (University of California/Davis) and the Smithsonian Institution. Her early work focused on understanding links between pollination ecology, gene flow and the process of natural selection in populations of wild plants. Her current research combines molecular and ecological approaches to understand how genes from crop plants move into wild populations, and the extent to which novel transgenic traits could benefit weedy plants (in sunflower, radish, squash, sorghum and rice).

Snow is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program of the Ecological Society of America, and has served on editorial boards of several peer-reviewed journals. She also serves on advisory panels of the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various international organizations. She works with the news media and others to educate the public about ecological benefits and risks associated with transgenic crops. In 2002, she received a Distinguished Scholar award from Ohio State University and was one of 50 recipients nationwide of a science and technology leadership award from Scientific American. She is currently the president-elect of the Botanical Society of America.

Terry Melton is president and chief executive officer of Mitotyping Technologies, a private company that specializes in performing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses for law enforcement agencies, attorneys and private individuals throughout North America. She has a research background in the study of mtDNA as a forensic typing locus. Her research topics included an evaluation of the diversity and subpopulation heterogeneity present in the mtDNA of approximately 40 populations from Europe, North America, Africa and Asia (published in the Journal of Forensic Science), studies of mtDNA and nuclear DNA variation in indigenous aboriginal populations from Kenya and Taiwan, and research into the mtDNA variation associated with Southeast Asian and Polynesian prehistory (American Journal of Human Genetics).

Melton is currently serving on the editorial board of the Journal of Forensic Science and is an affiliate researcher with the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University. She received a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in genetics from Penn State University.