Thursday, July 24. 2014
Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter that lived in the late 16th century. This is one of his famous paintings, The Three Graces, which I have seen at the Prado in Madrid.
Likely considered to be the ideal female form at the time, these women have creamy white skin with plenty of lumps and bumps. Look at those generous thighs, those round bellies!
Fast forward 500 years and this is now considered to be the ideal female figure. (I actually googled "ideal female body".)
Slim, tan, and not a lump or bump to be found anywhere.
Now I do not want to discuss which ideal is the best. I only want to point out that in less than 500 years the desired physique of a woman has changed drastically. Humans are slaves to fashion, and not just in our clothing, but in how we see our bodies as well.
Now think about germ-line genetic engineering, genetic engineering that will be passed down from generation to generation. Today's parents would likely choose height, strength, darker skin tone, and a fast metabolism for their child. But if they did engineer their children to have these genetic traits, they would also be choosing those traits for their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, their great-great grandchildren and so on.
In typical human style, styles will change. What is in fashion now will certainly not be in 50, let alone, 100 years. It is totally plausible that in 500 years, the ideal human will be short, fat and very, very white.
We cannot fathom that now. But therein lies the rub. Humans are short-sighted. Just as people in the 16th century could not have imagined our love for brown, toned bodies, we cannot begin to comprehend what future humans will find desirable.
So how can we, in good conscience, allow one generation to make such choices for every generation after? The answer is, we can't.
Friday, July 18. 2014
Warning! Spoilers Ahead!!
Divergent is the latest of the teen dystopian future trilogies to hit the big screen. I have read all three books, Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. Is it not my favorite trilogy in this growing genre, but I know that teens everywhere love it.
I do appreciate that Veronica Roth has tackled some of the most difficult issues that will face the younger generation. The third book, Allegiant, takes human genetic engineering and genetic discrimination head on.
Here is a little background. The trilogy begins in a walled city where everyone lives in 5 factions depending on their personal qualities. The Amity are all about peace and friendship. The Candor are brutally honest. The Erudite are incredibly clever. The Dauntless are risk-takers devoid of fear. And the Abnegation are selfless and driven to serve others.
If a person does not fit in one of these boxes, they are called "divergent,", and being divergent is a dangerous prospect. The main character, Tris, is divergent. She spends the first novel trying to hide it and the second novel discovering she needs to get outside the city to see what lies beyond the walls.
In the third book, we learn why the city is set up the way it is. On the outside, Tris finds out the city is a genetic experiment to try and fix damage that was done generations ago. With typical arrogance and ignorance, human beings began to genetically alter themselves to be better. The genetic engineering was done in a germ-line fashion and had unforeseen side effects that generations later were still wreaking havoc. One character involved in running the experiment explains:
“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says. “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion. Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves. Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation. If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”The genetically damaged were isolated in the city and placed in factions in an attempt at peaceful coexistence and a chance at fixing the results of the genetic engineering. We find out that being divergent, not wholly in one faction or another, is actually a sign of genetic healing.
But outside the city is not all peaches and cream either. Those who still live with "genetic damage" are second class citizens, seen as lesser humans, and they are unable to hold certain jobs. Those who were not genetically engineered are considered "genetically pure," and they run the place. It becomes clear that both the "damaged" and the "pure" are capable of great evil and great good regardless of their genetic make-up.
Roth address two important themes that today's teens need to be thinking about. The first is the wisdom of genetically altering ourselves to be "better." In Allegiant, we discover that the attempt goes horribly wrong and it affects generation after generation. Anyone reading this trilogy has to ask themselves if it is a road we should even begin to go down.
The second theme is one we are already grappling with: genetic discrimination. Are we defined by our genes "detective" or otherwise? Or are we more than a sequence of nucleotides? It seems clear to me that this trilogy answers "No" to the former and "Yes" to the latter.
Unfortunately there is a hint of some premarital sex in the last book, but I still want to thank Veronica Roth for tackling tough issues in biotechnology in a way young people love. I hope this trilogy gives them pause in a world that thinks science can solve any problem. I hope they see that being human is not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Tuesday, July 15. 2014
There is one argument against the Hobby Lobby decision that is driving me crazy maybe because it is going unchallenged on Facebook pages and comboxes all over.
It goes like this: if Hobby Lobby can deny health insurance coverage for birth control, then what will stop a company owned by other religious nut jobs from denying blood transfusions, chemotherapy, or inhalers for asthma?
This one seems to make sense and I am sure many people do not see where it falls short. I am not expert on Constitutional Law or on health insurance in general but this seems pretty obvious to me.
Blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and inhalers are medicine. They are therapeutic in nature needed for those who are sick. These are exactly the kinds of things health insurance is supposed to pay for. Any employer religious or otherwise is going to have a very tough time having a legitimate claim for not including well-known therapeutic measures for their employees because these are actually "health care."
Birth control is different. Of course there are cases where the pill is prescribed for medical reasons, but I speak only about birth control for the prevention of pregnancy. In this case birth control is not medicine nor is it therapeutic. Birth control actuals takes something that is normal, fertility, and makes it not work properly. Birth control is not even remotely in the same class as blood transfusions, chemotherapy or inhalers.
Really birth control is something that allows people to engage in baby-making behavior without making babies. That is not medicine; it is a life style choice no different from condoms, other barrier methods or even permanent sterilizations. Employers are not required to cover life style choices like condoms in their policies because they are not something health insurance should cover.
I have not heard a single man shouting about how his employer is denying him access to his condoms. Why? Probably because when it comes to men's reproductive systems we can still engage in calm and clear reasoning without hysterical hyperbole.
If a man wants to engage in baby-making behavior without making a baby we make him pay for it.
Ladies, we want equality do we not? Or is this really about getting more than "health care" and making someone else pay for it?
Tuesday, July 8. 2014
I could be having a great day and a nasty exchange on the Internet will always bring me down. Whether I am involved or not, uncivil discourse sucks the joy out of the Internet for me. I suspect it does for most people who are not secret psychopaths. I am especially discouraged when I see Christians ripping each other apart for the whole world to see.
In a recent exchange on Twitter, someone called a woman a "dumb nasty-deragatory-term-begining-with-a-c" for raising flags about some reproductive technologies. Other women, myself included, came to her defense calling the comment what it was: a blatant example of misogyny. The alleged misogynist then began to sling even more insults implying that he was the victim in the exchange. This then began a separate attack on my character because I have four kids and dared respond to a nasty comment about reproductive technologies.
The insanity of the whole business inspired me to write down the rules of Internet discourse that I try to live by. These all come from personal experience. Some of these I had to learn the hard way. And while I fall short sometimes, they are still ideals that I try and uphold.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, June 27. 2014
This story is so heartbreaking and so indicative of the complicated ethical web the fertility industry has spun. Gracie Crane is a UK teenage girl full of angst, but not the kind that troubles most teenagers. She was adopted as a "leftover" IVF embryo. Gracie keenly feels the loss of her genetic roots, but the law in the UK prevents her from ever knowing who her biological parents are. The pain is so acute, some days she says she wishes she were never born.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Tuesday, June 24. 2014
In the blogosphere, there are times I think when it is acceptable to toot your own horn. This maybe one of those times, so I am going to toot away.
At the Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte this past week, the National Catholic Register submitted my commentaries to the Catholic Press Awards. They won first place in the “Best Regular Column – Culture, the Arts and Leisure" category.
The judges said my commentary was "Informed, interesting approach to this very complicated topic. Written in a way that most readers can digest and learn from." That is exactly my mission. I am not the M.D. Ph.D. Church scholar. I am the everyday Catholic trying to make the maze of biotechnology accessible to the faithful. It is nice to be recognized for what I strive to do on a daily basis.
I am sincerely grateful to the Register for giving my labor of love a home. There are few places that have the insight and vision to appreciate the importance of the topics I write about. Please give them your support.
In case you missed any of my pieces at the Register here they are:
How Modern Eugenics Discounts Human Dignity
Human or Superhuman? Church Teaching on Genetic Engineering
Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible by the Killing of Innocent Human Life
The Church Is Not Backward, But Forward
Transhumanism: Taking the Place of Our Creator
Orphaned at Conception
Three-Parent Embryo: Modifying Future Generations
Genetically Modified Food: Bad; Genetically Modified Humans: Good
Entering the Bionic Age: Why Be You, When You Can Be New?
Wednesday, June 18. 2014
The World Cup is back. I was lucky enough to be standing near a TV (at a soccer center no less) when the U.S. scored its first goal against Ghana. I will never forget the first time I ever watched men's soccer live. It was a college game and I sat in awe of how exciting such a low scoring game could be. I wondered where soccer had been all my life.
Nike has a clever ad for the World Cup. The best football players in the world are replaced by "clones" that never make mistakes. Once one guy is cloned, they all get cloned because, go figure, the natural athlete can no longer compete. Then the fans disappear because a game between perfection and more perfection is not worth watching. It certainly isn't sport. Take a look:
In a fantasy world, Perfection Inc.'s clones would lose to the natural athlete. But I fear that won't happen in the real world once sport embraces enhancements. If human augmentation is accepted by regulatory bodies, the naturals will get left behind and sport will be forever changed.
It is already happening with illicit steroids and doping. As enhancements get more radical, the gap between the enhanced and the natural will widen.
Performance enhancements, whether chemical or not, are by nature coercive. If one guy is doing it, everyone else feels compelled to as well.
I love this quote from USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart released after the Lance Armstrong scandal:
Our mission is to protect clean athletes by preserving the integrity of competition not only for today’s athletes but also the athletes of tomorrow. We have heard from many athletes who have faced an unfair dilemma — dope, or don’t compete at the highest levels of the sport. Many of them abandoned their dreams and left sport because they refused to endanger their health and participate in doping. That is a tragic choice no athlete should have to make.
Tuesday, June 10. 2014
In today's modern society everything seems turned around. Black is white. White is black. You would think nothing would surprise me anymore, but it does, especially in the realm of reproductive medicine.
The United Kingdom's authority on reproductive medicine, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has called the creation of embryos with three genetic parents "not unsafe" in the attempt to move the procedure to the clinic. I have written extensively about the technique and its safety issues before.
The HFEA recommends more testing be done, but they don't recommend that testing be done in primates. That would be unethical. Jessica Cussins, in the Huffington Post, exposes the report that states that the HFEA thinks continuing with testing the procedure in primates raises ethical issues:
Although this review is focused on the science, it is an ethical concern to carry out experiments on animals, especially non-human primates, if these are likely to not be informative.But they do want to continue testing the procedure on human embryos. They need to see if a mixture of mitochondria from the donor woman and the woman with mitochondrial disease will cause a problem. Also they want to see if three-parent embryos have normal gene expression. Until researchers are satisfied, no doubt none of these experimental embryos will ever see the inside of a uterus.
So it is ethical to create and destroy human embryos for these studies, but not animal embryos. Cussins asks, "Does that imply that the decision makers are exercising less caution with humans?" I have no doubt that is the case.
Also it seems that the HFEA thinks that it is ethical to make children experiments in general since no embryo studies will ever prove the technique is safe for the long term. A fact they openly acknowledge:
"Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe," said Dr. Andy Greenfield, who chaired the expert panel behind the report.The child is the experiment and will be for his or her entire life since birth will not be the end of possible adverse outcomes. It will only be the beginning.
And what happens when a healthy child is not developing in the womb? I suspect abortion will be the damage control of choice. Like in so many other reproductive technologies, abortion will be the fail-safe. If something goes wrong, just get rid of the child and start over until you get that "healthy child." Without abortion we would never continue on with such experimentation for fear of having to face the consequences of what we have done to the children.
The HFEA also acknowledges the dangers of this type of genetic engineering. This three-parent technique is a germ-line modification, one that will be passed on to future generation. They admit that this procedure may put a girl in the very same position as her mother, faced with passing on a genetic condition:
The panel strongly recommends that permission is sought from the parents of the children born from MST or PNT to be followed up for an extensive period... any female born following MST or PNT should be advised, when old enough, that she may herself be at risk of having a child with a significant level of mutant mtDNA, putting her child, and if female, subsequent generations at risk of mitochondrial disease.The difference between mother and daughter, of course, will be that the daughter will know she was an experiment and whatever she passes on was done to her deliberately.
Going forward with the three-parent technique, even if it seems like a good idea, will cement the "try it first and worry about the consequences later" methodology of reproductive medicine where children are the experiment. This will open the door to more invasive modifications to chromosomes; modifications that will affect not only the first child, but every generation after.
The HFEA is willing to experiment on embryos and children and open the door to even more radical human genetic engineering for only about a dozen women a year that could benefit from such a technique.
I ask, what happened to curing and treating disease? How about focusing on treatments for mitochondrial disease instead of embarking on unethical human experimentation and opening a Pandora's box of human genetic engineering?
Friday, June 6. 2014
In my life I have been blessed to know many people who have cerebral palsy. When I was a child, Michael, a friend of my parents, would come to visit. My brother and I looked forward to his time with us because of his infectious sense of humor.
Later, when I married my husband, I got to meet his cousin Jay. Jay is confined to a wheel chair but that did not stop him from making me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. And just around the corner from my house lives Sarah. She cannot speak, but her mother and sister, who was hands down my kids' favorite babysitter, look at her with such love and admiration that I know she communicates effectively without words.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 28. 2014
A whimsical animated children’s movie that came out in 2005 may be one of the most prophetic films of our time.
Robots, featuring the voice talents of Robin Williams and Ewan McGregor, is the story of Rodney Copperbottom, a young robot adept at building and fixing things. He goes to the big city to meet his idol, the head of Bigweld Industries, Mr. Bigweld.
What Rodney finds at Bigweld Industries is a change of management and a change of direction. The company will no longer be making replacement parts for robots. Instead, they will only be making new shiny “upgrades” for those robots that can afford them. The new motto for Bigweld Industries becomes: “Why be you, when you can be new?”
The robots who could not afford these new upgrades were left without any options for repair. As they broke down, they were relegated to the junk heap and eventually melted down.
How is a movie about robot spare parts and upgrades prophetic?
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register>>
Friday, May 16. 2014
I am a former zygote. If you are not familiar with biology terminology, a zygote is the first cell that results when gametes (sperm and egg) fuse in sexual reproduction. I teach biology to homeschool students and we discover that many organisms begin as zygotes. Any organism that reproduces sexually starts as a zygote. Humans are just one of many.
And while we are quite willing to acknowledge that a canine zygote is a brand new dog, or a bovine zygote is a brand new cow, or an equine zygote is a brand new horse, all genetically distinct from any that came before, somehow we humans are different. Many of us are perfectly happy asserting that human zygotes are not new humans even though embryology textbooks tell us otherwise.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Thursday, May 8. 2014
To grease the wheels of the transhumanist technological utopia it will take getting a generation on board with radically changing the nature of humanity. That is where popular culture comes in. In Episode 9 of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the transhumanist images, both good and bad, in the media today.
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
On the heels of the announcement that researchers were able to clone two adult men and destroy those cloned embryos for stem cells, another group funded by the New York Stem Cell Foundation has published research where they cloned a woman with type 1 diabetes. NBCNews reports:
Scientists have used cloning technology to make stem cells from a woman with Type 1 diabetes that are genetically matched to her and to her disease.Let's be clear what was made and destroyed here. The article says a "blastocyst" so most people's eyes will gloss over, their brains will turn off and they will ignore what is really going on. A blastocyst is an early embryo, a human being. Every single person on this planet at one time was a blastocyst as well.
Cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) creates a cloned embryo. In this case, they destroyed that embryo for her parts.
This quote reinforces that fact that it is past time to outlaw all cloning in humans in the United States even for research purposes:
“I think this is going to become reality,” Dr. Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, whose report is published in the journal Nature on Monday, told reporters. “It may be a bit in the future but it is going to happen.”Do we really want to be creating masses of cloned human beings to be spare parts farms, putting thousands of young women at risk for the eggs that are needed for cloning, when we can already make tailor-made embryonic-like stem cells from simple reprogramming techniques that do not require eggs or embryos?
Make no mistake, no matter what researchers say, cloning will not stop in the lab. I agree with both Gregory Pence and President George W. Bush that to think that is will not end in reproductive cloning is naive:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."A total ban on asexual reproduction in humans, which would include, but not be limited to, SCNT, is desperately needed to protect both nascent human life and young women from being exploited for their eggs.
Many people think that a partial ban on just reproductive cloning is good enough. As Bush and Pence pointed out above, it is not. Not only would legislation banning only the implantation of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes allow cloning to continue, but such a law would mandate that cloned embryos be destroyed for science. It would also give us a false sense of security that we "did something" about cloning when really it would be window dressing. Cloning would continue, becoming more and more efficient, and likely those cloned embryos will still end up in female volunteers. After all, some people see cloning as one of their "reproductive rights":
“My decision to clone myself should not be the government’s business, or Cardinal O’Connor’s, any more than a woman’s decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. It’s part of the reproductive rights of every human being.”Do we really want to leave the legality of cloning up to the misguided notions we have about "reproductive rights"?
I certainly do not.
Wednesday, April 23. 2014
The 21st human chromosome is the smallest of all our chromosomes. It contains only a few hundred genes and is only 1% of our total DNA. As most people know, an extra chromosome 21 causes Down Syndrome. What most people did not know until research published this week, is that tiny chromosome has an effect across the whole human genome.
Instead of simply being an extra copy of each of the genes on chromosome 21, trisomy 21 has an effect on the expression of genes on other chromosomes. The Scientist has the story of the fascinating research that lead to this discovery:
The deleterious effects of trisomy 21—the extra chromosome behind Down’s syndrome—can be seen across the entire genome, according to a study published today (April 16) in Nature. While studying a pair of monozygotic twins in which only one person had Down’s syndrome, a team led by Stylianos Antonarakis of the University of Geneva Medical School in Switzerland discovered that trisomy 21 can affect other chromosomes.Understanding how the extra genetic material in those with Down Syndrome affects the rest of the DNA in the cell is a critical step toward effective gene therapy, so this is a major breakthrough.
What this discovery also reinforces what we are beginning to understand: genetics and gene expression is a lot more complex than just a sequence of DNA. There is a symphony of influences that affect how genes are expressed and even a tiny piece of DNA can alter the music. This quote really stood out to me:
“The mere addition of a small piece of DNA—about 30 megabases, or 1 percent of the genome—can disturb the entire transcriptome, all the genes of the genome. And not only disturb them, but disturb them in a specific and programmed way,” said AntonarakisIn other words, when it comes to genetics, small changes can have big effects.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, April 18. 2014
For years Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technology ACT) has been trying to clone human embryos. They have been working with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the same technique that cloned Dolly the sheep, in vain attempts to get cloned human embryo to grow long enough to produce embryonic stem cells. ACT has even tried using cow, rabbit and mouse eggs instead of human eggs to produce cloned human embryos.
Well, ACT has finally done it. Working with the research of Oregon scientists who last year announced that they had successfully cloned embryos using cells from infants and fetuses, ACT reports that they were successful in creating cloned embryos from 35 and 75 year old men.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Thursday, April 10. 2014
Today I will be on the Mike Janocik Show on Louisville's EWTN affiliate WLCR 1040 AM Holy Family Radio from 5:00 to 5:30 pm ET discussing why it seems that genetically modified foods are bad, but genetically modified humans are good. Click here to listen in live.
Tuesday, April 8. 2014
The Church has always been against third-party reproduction and that is because the Church has always been focused on the needs of the child and not on the wants of the parents.
Humans have a universal desire to love and be loved by our biological parents. That requires that we know and be known by our biological parents; a scenario purposefully denied those children of anonymous sperm or egg donation.
The Church knows that connection to our biological parents is part of the rights of a child. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.This right is ignored by the fertility industry in order to grease the wheels of profit and give desperate parents what they want. After decades of creating children that can never know their biological progenitors, the cracks are beginning to show as more and more donor-conceived adults are speaking out. Here are just two snippets from AnonymousUs.org:
I look at history, and there are dads, I look at wildlife, there are dads, I look at society and there are dads. Dads are everywhere, maybe its media but I feel like I'm missing out. I feel like I will never know what it's like to be in the arms of a man who loves me unconditionally in a innocent non-sexual way, and who will be my other half. I will never know what it's like to bond with my other genetic parent, I will never know what it's like to look at the rest of nature and know I was conceived the way I was suppose to be...you know, outside a science lab....and not on a dish to be shoved into a refrigerator.And:
I have a tape of my donor's voice, answering questions. Some are deep queries about his personal beliefs, but others are trivial. Those are the ones that make me cry. Questions like 'what's your favorite movie?' He gave the same answer as me and it confused and delighted me. After hearing in him all the traits in me the rest of my family doesn't understand, I felt like i'd missed out on something spectacular, to be understood by the person partially responsible for my existence.... It seems odd and horrorible at the same time that two people who have never even laid eyes on each other have a child. I hate that my dad got paid. I hate that he was probably just some guy who was broke and needed a little bit of pocket cash. No matter how great of a guy he was, he just wanted the money. And even though I think about him all the time, he has no idea I that exist.Now, Dr. Keith Ablow has thrown down the gauntlet. In an opinion piece at FoxNews, Ablow calls for anonymous sperm and egg donation be outlawed. Why? Because it violates the rights of the very children it creates:
Without seemingly having given it much thought at all, our society now allows tens of thousands or more of men and women to create children who will never know one or sometimes both of their biological parents, because states allow these anonymous donations. And this policy inherently presupposes that bearing children who have no opportunity to know their biological fathers or mothers does not deprive them of anything that is inherently theirs – as a fundamental human right.Harsh? Yes. True? Another yes.
Ablow makes the necessary distinction between adoption, which is an attempt to solve a problem and anonymous gamete donation which creates and perpetuates a problem:
Anonymous sperm and ova donation solves no problem of any child. It is a convenience to adults who are encountering fertility problems and would prefer the convenience of jettisoning part of their child's true life history in order to commandeer that child from its true biological father or mother.Thank-you Dr. Ablow for speaking the uncomfortable truth. It is time our society put the health and well-being of children over the desires of perspective parents.
Wednesday, April 2. 2014
Transhumanism is everywhere. We are being steeped in it like a tea bag in hot water. Not all the images are favorable, but shows like Almost Human, Intelligence, and Lab Rats and movies like the Bourne Legacy, Her, and Transcendence keep transhumanist themes always percolating, especially in the minds of those who will be most affected, our children. Artificial intelligence, human enhancements, and genetic engineering were the stuff of science fiction when most of us were young. These are within the grasp of today's youth. Some would say they are inevitable.
To grease the wheels of the transhumanist technological utopia it will take getting a generation on board with radically changing the nature of humanity. According to a 2012 survey, the majority of tranhumanists desire immortality on this planet. And now there is a children's book called Death is Wrong to convince younger readers that death is an evil problem that needs to be solved. It calls death "the enemy of us all."
Continue Reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, April 1. 2014
While it is April Fool's Day, this is for real. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the Orgeon scientist that last year used somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) better known as therapeutic cloning to clone human embryos AND created human embryos with three-genetic parents, has new research published in Nature that has not gotten a lot of attention, but we should be aware of it none-the-less.
Mitalipov and his team have cloned mice. So what you say? Researchers have been cloning mice for years. This is different because instead of using eggs to clone those mice like in traditional SCNT, Oregon scientists used 2-celled mouse embryos. Contained in the egg are factors that can reprogram the nucleus of an adult cell and create a new organism with the same genetic make-up; what we know as cloning. It was thought that after an egg is fertilized and the resulting embryo divides, the embryo no longer had that same reprogramming abilities as the egg. Mitalipov has shown that at the 2-celled stage of the embryo those factors are still present.
From the Oregon Health and Science University website:
An Oregon Health & Science University scientist has been able to make embryonic stem cells from adult mouse body cells using the cytoplasm of two-cell embryos that were in the "interphase" stage of the cell cycle. Scientists had previously thought the interphase stage — a later stage of the cell cycle — was incapable of converting transplanted adult cell nuclei into embryonic stem cells.Why is this important? Human eggs are hard to come by making human cloning using eggs expensive and difficult. As quoted above, embryos on the other hand are "more accessible" making human cloning with existing human embryos more doable.
Mitalipov and his team will move on from mice and try this technique in monkeys and then in humans. The goal has always been to perfect human cloning for the research and, in my opinion, for reproduction.
BioEdge comments on the ethics of this research:
Embryos will be far cheaper as a raw material for research than eggs – but also far more controversial ethically.That is why this announcement is important. If Mitalipov is successful using this technique to clone human embryos for research (and he has been successful with his other research on embryos so far), two embryos will be sacrificed in the cloning process instead of just one. It is doubly evil.
And considering that cloning is not necessary anymore for obtaining patient-specific stem cells it is even more insidious. Induced pluripotent stem cell technology can create patient-specific pluripotent stem cells without creating or destroying one embryo, let alone two.
Wednesday, March 26. 2014
Ray Kurzweil predicted in his book, The Singularity is Near, that we will be mostly non-organic beings by the 2030s. In the 2030s, I will be getting ready to retire and take care of my grandkids. My children will be starting their families. In other words, not in the distant future, but in this lifetime. So now is the time to take notice of emerging technologies because they will be upon us before we know it.
One of the ways that transhumanists envision that man will live forever is by interfacing the human brain with computers, uploading our consciousness into the digital realm. A new movie "Transcendence", starring Johnny Depp, will tackle this very scenario. The plot:
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.Here is the trailer:
I cannot wait to see this film, and not just because Paul Bettany is in it. I am hoping it goes beyond simply the technological aspects of artificial intelligence but sparks a discussion about what it means to be an organic human, full of flaws and limitations, and yet sublimely beautiful at the same time. That is true "transcendence." The "I can't feel anything" line is promising.
If this film does turn out to be a true cautionary tale as the trailer seems to suggest, then I hope we all take note. "Gattaca" was a visionary movie that was filled with warnings about embracing genetic determinism. We didn't take heed and are now deciding which lives get to be lived simply by genetics alone. Maybe "Transcendence" will be different.
Friday, March 21. 2014
“Thank you, Professor Lejeune, for what you did for my father and my mother. Because of you, I am proud of myself.”Unfortunately, today, a prenatal diagnosis of an extra 21st chromosome is a death sentence to many with Down Syndrome. We have come so far in our understanding of the disorder but gone down the wrong path in dealing with it. There is a seek-and-destroy mission being waged instead of an all out push for treatments to deal with the challenges that face Down Syndrome patients and families.
So why is "happy" the word of the day? A recent study revealed that 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report being happy with their lives. That is a number you will never find in any "normal" adult population. A diagnosis of Down Syndrome means an almost certain guarantee that a child will be happy. Is that not what all parents want for their children?
And yet society acts like it did before Jérôme Lejeune's discovery, with fear and ignorance. The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation asks us to act on behalf of all persons with Down Syndrome, both in and out of the womb:
The oft-quoted statistics of terminations following prenatal diagnosis are tragic testimony to the lack of acceptance we still face in our modern culture of inclusion. How can we have, on one hand, sociological data that show overwhelmingly the happiness and love children with Down syndrome bring to families; and yet on the other, consuming fear and fatal rejection by a majority? Today we should not only advocate for those living with Down syndrome – but also for those who were not given a chance to live. Even more, we should insist on getting good information into the hands of mothers and fathers who face the terrible decision whether or not to terminate, and try to spare them the consequences of a choice that often brings so much sadness and despair.This video can do in a few minutes what a lifetime of words cannot: show the precious lives that are lived with a little bit of extra genetic material. Pass it on because the world needs to know the truth about happiness in a life with Down Syndrome.
Wednesday, March 19. 2014
In light of my recent piece in the National Catholic Register "Genetically Modified Food: Bad; Genetically Modified Humans: Good", Chelsea asks, "Why are we going to great lengths to raise awareness about and regulate the use of GMO in our food supply, while largely ignoring the direct genetic modification of human beings??" A great question we discuss in the latest episode of BioTalk.
Tuesday, March 11. 2014
This is a great read for anyone who worries about the various reprogramming techniques for creating stem cells. I would include myself in that category. Dr. Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, makes an excellent case at Public Discourse that stem cells are not embryos.
She highlights the important distinction between true "totipotency" that can give rise to a developing organism and the common usage of "totipotent" which is often employed to describe a cell that can differentiate into all the different tissue types including placenta. The former is a zygote that has the ability to become a multi-celled embryo, then a fetus and so on. The latter are just cells that can become all different cell types, but lack the organizational ability of true totipotency. Dr. Condic writes:
The term “totipotent” is used in the scientific literature in two radically different ways. The strict sense of totipotency refers to a one-cell embryo or zygote that is “capable of developing into a complete organism.” The second, weaker sense of totipotency refers to the ability of a cell to differentiate into any of the cells or tissues of the body, including cells of the placenta. A zygote is “totipotent” in both senses, yet pluripotent stem cells are “totipotent” only in the second sense.Dr. Condic reveals that stem cells, even ones that can become all the tissue types of the body and placenta as well (often called "totipotent" cells in the media), are not embryos because they lack the ability to complete an organized development. If placed in a womb such stem cells would create tumors, not a fetus. She argues that we should call stem cells that are plastic enough to become all the tissue types including placenta "plenipotent" to differentiate them from both pluripotent stem cells and truly totipotent embryos:
In contrast, a cell that can produce but not organize all of the cells of the body (including cells found in the placenta) is not an embryo. If transferred to a uterus, it will produce a tumor, not a baby. Such cells are sometimes referred to as “totipotent” in the second, weak or cellular sense, a misuse of the term that causes great confusion for many non-scientific readers. I have proposed the term “plenipotent” (from the Latin plenus, or “full”) to distinguish such cells from pluripotent stem cells (i.e., stem cells that do not produce placental tissue) and to avoid confusing mere tumors with actual, totipotent embryos.The egg (more properly called an oocyte) has critical factors that guide development. Reprogrammed stem cells, since they are not made from or use eggs, lack those factors and so therefore are not embryos. In contract, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), also known as cloning does create embryos because an egg is used in the cloning process.
Dr. Condic concludes:
Totipotent zygotes are distinct from pluripotent or even plenipotent stem cells because they undergo development. The ability to both produce all cell types and to organize them into a coherent body plan is the defining feature of a totipotent human organism. And totipotency critically requires multiple factors derived from oocytes. Human embryos can be produced by fertilization or by cloning, yet both of these procedures start with and require the cytoplasmic factors contributed by a human egg. All other scientific techniques that result in embryos containing mixtures of stem cells start with an embryo produced by either fertilization or by cloning.
Thank-you Dr. Condic for such a complete and illuminating explanation.
Hat Tip: The Mike Janocik Show
Monday, March 10. 2014
In the November 2012 elections, voters of Washington state had to decide on Initiative 522. I-522 would require food sold in the state to be labeled if any of its components were produced by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Proponents made a necessary distinction between selectively bred plants and animals and those that are GMOs. Selective breeding has been standard practice in agriculture since man began herding animals and growing crops. GMO plants and animals are those that have a genetic makeup that would not occur naturally through normal breeding. For example, a plant that has had a gene inserted that gives it resistance to weed killer and a cow that has been cloned so it is immune to mad-cow disease are GMOs.
It was a contentious battle, with supporters of I-522 telling consumers that genetic engineering has unintended consequences and that ingesting GMO products may make us sick. Proponents insisted that we have a right to know what is in our food.
Ads against I-522 did not suggest food made from GMOs was perfectly safe or that the concerns of food purists were unfounded. The opposition focused on the wording of the initiative and on the impact labeling would have on the price of food.
I-522 was defeated with 45% of voters supporting the initiative and 55% opposed. A similar initiative in California, Proposition 37, also did not pass. In 2012, California voters were 49% in support of labeling food made from GMOs; 51% voted against Prop. 37.
Analyzing these votes, it is apparent that nearly half of the voting residents in California and Washington are concerned about eating GMOs and want to be informed about which foods contain GMO products. A poll conducted by ABC News found that 65% of Americans either believe GMOs are unsafe to eat or are unsure about their safety, and 93% of those polled believe that the government should require labeling.
At the same time, in another West Coast state, genetically modified human embryos are being made with little objection from the general public.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Tuesday, March 4. 2014
(Image from New Scientist)
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