Roger Pedersen's arrival in Cambridge is the kind of development that the politicians responsible for the big increases in British science funding have been hoping for. He cites not only the cash available to him in Britain but also the country's mature attitude to research that the pro-life lobby in the US is doing its best to close down as reasons for shifting his stem-cell research across the Atlantic. He even praises the quality of debate among British politicians by contrast with their US opposite numbers. The power of modern biology means that it may lead to treatments that affect millions of lives directly. And it is likely to generate new companies and industries in the process.
But the politicians and lobbyists are correct to point out that the power of this new knowledge needs to be managed. Stem cells are not embryos or foetuses, much less people, and the UK is right to see more advantages than problems in experimenting with them. But funding research in such areas will inevitably create experts in areas such as cloning where democratic decisions on what is permissible are essential.
The UK's comparatively mature attitude to animal research suggests that successful approaches can be developed. As the departure of our humanities academics suggests, the US will continue to be the magnet for many of the world's highest-flying intellectuals. But a combination of money and cunning might just allow the UK to be the venue of choice for some of the most covetable of their number.