Carnival of the Cats: Century Edition

Filed in MiscellaneousTags: Carnivals, Cats, Pets

Carnival of the Cats #100 has been posted, and I am linked with this post.

Early: The New “Embryonic”

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly links to this Kansas City Star article:

Missouri’s cloning war came to the Capitol on Thursday when two Washington University scientists wrangled over research on early stem cells and the laboratory techniques used to grow them.

...

The two men, both respected researchers, offered their competing viewpoints during a forum at the Missouri Press Association’s Day at the Capitol.

Rebecca makes a great point about the following:

The conclusion? It comes down to whether you view the cells created by the process to be a person.

Steven Teitelbaum, a professor who supports the initiative petition that would protect stem-cell research in Missouri, said he believes that cells in a Petri dish are not persons. But science, he said, cannot answer the question.

“It depends on your religious tradition, your ethics, the feeling in your gut…” Teitelbaum said. “When does a soul come into the body, if at all? Clearly, no one knows that.”

Richard Chole, a fellow professor who opposes the initiative, said he believes that a human being is formed at the moment of conception or the moment that a person’s skin cell is copied through cloning techniques. Taking the stem cells that develop, he said, essentially kills a developing human.

“A line should be drawn,” Chole said, “at the point we are destroying a human life.”

Rebecca's take:

Teitelbaum is correct that there is no way to scientifically prove when the soul enters the body. And different religions hold differing beliefs. We Catholics believe that the soul is present from the moment of conception because that is when science tells us that a new human life begins. (Surprisingly, many Catholics erroneously believe that an embryo created by SCNT does not have a soul.)

But, if he is correct that no one knows for sure, why would he automatically say it is okay to destroy life that we are unsure about? Wouldn't logic dictate that if "science cannot answer that question" that science should err on the side of caution?

Indeed.

Other than that point, something else caught my attention in this article. See the following excerpts:

Missouri’s cloning war came to the Capitol on Thursday when two Washington University scientists wrangled over research on early stem cells and the laboratory techniques used to grow them.

...

The controversy involves a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes called therapeutic cloning. Researchers take a human egg cell, remove its nucleus and replace it with the nucleus of an ordinary cell, such as a skin cell. The egg reprograms the nucleus to act like an egg that was newly fertilized by a sperm.

In a few days, it will grow into a ball of cells known as a blastocyst. Inside that ball are early stem cells, which have the potential to grow into all the different tissues of the body.

...

The basic issue, he said, is the vast potential that research on early stem cells offers.

The author's bias on this issue is shining as brightly as Moses' face when he descended Mt. Sinai, veiled in the substitution of "early stem cells" for "embryonic stem cells" and referring to the embryo as a "ball of cells".

SCNT is a cloning technique that results in a zygote. Upon first division, that entity is then an embryo, by definition. The blastocyst is part of the embryonic phase of development of that entity. Thus, the stem cells contained within that blastocyst are embryonic stem cells.

But the bias doesn't stop with the misrepresentation of the nature of stem cells as embryonic. Note that the author also makes this statement:

The controversy involves a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes called therapeutic cloning.

Saying that SCNT is "sometimes" called therapeutic cloning is like saying the President of the United States (POTUS) is "sometimes" called the Commander-In-Chief (CIC). POTUS is always the CIC, even if he does not always act in that capacity. SCNT is always cloning; the differentiation between "therapeutic" and "reproductive" exists only in the intended use of the product of the procedure.

To that end, I find the following arguments by Steven Teitelbaum to be specious.

First:

Teitelbaum said the initiative uses common-sense meanings. When typical voters think of human cloning, they expect to see a baby, he said. The initiative would ban cloning a baby by imposing criminal penalties against anyone who attempted to implant cloned cells into a woman’s uterus.

Proponents claim the initiative uses "common-sense meanings", yet the initiative fact sheet adamantly claims that it bans human cloning:

Voting YES on the Initiative protects stem cell research and cures - and strictly prohibits human cloning.

...

It also sets responsible boundaries and guidelines to ensure that stem cell research is conducted ethically and safely. And, it resolves concerns that stem cell research could lead to human cloning by strictly banning any attempt to clone a human being.

These semantics are not "common-sense"; they are an intentional misrepresentation of the nature and intent of both the procedure, and the initiativfe itself. At the point of implantation into the uterus, the cloning procedure has long-since been completed, and the clone has long-since been created. At this point, implantation in the uterus versus harvesting for stem cells is a matter of intended use of the clone, not one of defining the nature or identity of the entity resulting from the cloning procedure.

Second:

In addition, the blastocyst created by nuclear transfer is fundamentally different from one created by the union of sperm and egg, Teitelbaum said. The sexually produced blastocyst has some 25 genes functioning that permit it to implant in the uterus and begin to develop. In the cloned version, those genes are not functioning, he said.

Oh really? Fundamentally different, eh? Somebody better tell Dolly; she still thinks she's a sheep. A whole lot of researchers are going to be shocked by this revelation that she is "fundamentally different" from a sheep, because she was the result of SCNT.

OYB February 19

Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Devotions, One Year Bible

Today´s reading:
OT: Leviticus 7:28-38, Leviticus 8, Leviticus 9:1-6
NT: Mark 3:31-35, Mark 4:1-25
Ps: Psalm 37:12-29
Pr: Proverbs 10:5

Today´s notable verse:

33 Do not leave the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for your ordination will last seven days. 34 What has been done today was commanded by the LORD to make atonement for you. 35 You must stay at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days and do what the LORD requires, so you will not die; for that is what I have been commanded.

Leviticus 8:33-35 (NIV)

Out of curiosity, what of the observance of the Sabbath during this seven-day ordination period?

The One Year Bible Blog notes:

Comments from You & Question of the Day - I realize that my reflections above in the OT section on clergy at churches receiving compensation might be controversial in some ways. What are your thoughts on your clergy receiving compensation? What are your thoughts on others in other types of ministry receiving compensation? Where do we draw the line of when ministry should be done with compensation or without compensation?

Absolutely, ministers of the Word should be compensated and supported by those to whom they minister. See the words of Paul in I Corinthians chapter 9:

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."[b] Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

I Corinthians 9:7-14

That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

Further, I think ministers should be well-compensated. Financial issues should not be an inherent burden for our ministers (though, of course, they have the same responsibility of financial stewardship that the rest of us have). At the same time, I think ministers outwardly should display the utmost in humility with respect to materialism. Within those bounds, I think the Spirit will direct in such matters.

A Reader’s Response on ANT

Filed in Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Parableman stops by this post about the stem-cell issue, that I submitted to Christian Carnival CIX. He has some thoughts on ANT:

I don't think it's as clear on ANT. The way it's usually been described from what I've read is that they alter the genetic information before they import the nucleus. The genetic engineering thus takes place before there's any orgnanism, and I think what they're doing is not like producing a human being that is alive and unable to grow but more like producing a corpse with still-living material. But it's not producing a corpse by killing an organism. It's more like producing a corpse by putting together materials that are incapable of being an organism. That doesn't sound anywhere near as problematic as the way you describe it. I think there are ethical worries, but I think it's misleading to describe it as a living embryo and then preventing it from growing. Does it count as an organism at all? I don't think that's as easy a question as you're making it sound. Current understandings of what it takes to answer that seem to me to be indeterminate on this sort of question.

I appreciate all input, and I'd like to discuss. On this statement:

The way it's usually been described from what I've read is that they alter the genetic information before they import the nucleus. The genetic engineering thus takes place before there's any orgnanism...

Let's take a look at what actually happens in the process. The method used here is still Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT):

The nucleus of a cell contains DNA, which acts roughly as its blueprint (although unlike an actual blueprint, these instructions are greatly affected by environment as well as other factors not yet fully understood and can change over time). In somatic cell nuclear transfer the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is removed or destroyed. A somatic cell (a cell other than a sperm or egg cell) is then inserted into the enucleated egg and the two cells fuse together.

Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT) modifies not the process, but one of the components: namely, the somatic cell implanted in the nucleus-free egg. What, then, is a somatic cell?

A somatic cell is generally taken to mean any cell forming the body of an organism: the word "somatic" is derived from the Greek word s?ma, meaning "body". Somatic cells, by definition, are not germline cells and cannot divide or differentiate to produce a new generation of offspring under any circumstances. In mammals, germline cells are the sperm and ova (also known as "gametes") which fuse during fertilisation to produce a cell called a zygote, from which the entire mammalian embryo develops. Every other cell type in the mammalian body – apart from the sperm and ova, the cells from which they are made (gametocytes) and undifferentiated stem cells – is a somatic cell; internal organs, skin, bones, blood and connective tissue are all made up of somatic cells.

...

Somatic cells can also be defined by the amount of genetic material they contain, which in mammals is always twice as much as contained in a germline cell. The genetic information in human somatic cells is packaged into 23 pairs of chromosomes. Human germline cells contain exactly half this amount, i.e. 23 single chromosomes. This means that when an ova and sperm fuse, they produce a zygote with 23 pairs of chromosomes.

The problem, then, that I have with your statement that "genetic engineering thus takes place before there's any organism" is that the SCNT process (altered or otherwise) requires a genetically fully human organism to be present at every step. The process starts with a genetically fully human somatic cell, implants it into an enucleated human gamete, creating a genetically fully human embryo. Both the original somatic cell and the resulting embryo contain 23 pairs of chromosomes.

ANT does not modify this genetic makeup of either the somatic cell nor of the resulting embryo. This point is critical, and ANT proponents (including Dr. Hurlbut) try to disguise this fact:

Altered Nuclear Transfer uses the technology of NT but with a preemptive alteration that assures that no embryo is created.

The somatic cell nucleus or the enucleated egg contents (cytoplasm) or both are first altered before the somatic cell nucleus is transferred into the egg. The alterations cause the somatic cell DNA to function in such a way that no embryo is generated, but pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are produced.

This point is critical, and ANT proponents' position here is untenable. Stem cells are not "formed", they are - by definition - derived from an embryo. Definition of embryonic stem cells:

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells derived from the undifferentiated inner mass cells of a human embryo (sometimes called a blastocyst, which is an early stage embryo - approximately 1 week old in humans - consisting of 50-150 cells).

To be clear, here is the definition of a blastocyst:

A mammal develops from a single cell called a zygote, which results from an oocyte (egg) being fertilized by a single sperm. The zygote is surrounded by a strong membrane of glycoproteins called the zona pellucida which the successful sperm has managed to penetrate.

The zygote undergoes cleavage, increasing the number of cells within the zona pellucida. When there are about 4 to 16 cells, the embryo is in the morula stage. When the number of cells reaches 40 to 150, a central, fluid-filled cavity (blastocoel) forms. The zona pellucida begins to degenerate. This stage in the developing embryo is the blastocyst, and lasts approximately until the implantation in the uterus. The outer cells develop into the placenta.

The definition of a zygote:

A zygote ...is a cell that is the result of fertilization. That is, two haploid cells—usually (but not always) an ovum from a female and a sperm cell from a male—merge into a single diploid cell called the zygote (or zygocyte).

Animal zygotes undergo mitotic cell divisions to become an embryo.

And finally, the definition of embryo:

An embryo ...is a diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development.

...

In organisms that reproduce sexually, once a sperm fertilizes an egg cell, the result is a cell called the zygote that has all the DNA of two parents. In plants, animals, and some protists, the zygote will begin to divide by mitosis to produce a multicellular organism. The term embryo refers to the early stages of this development, after the zygote has divided at least once, but before the process has completed to produce a new individual.

Apologies for the copious quoting, but it is important that the meanings of each of these terms are understood.

Now, back to Hulburt's defense:

Why the cell produced by ANT is not an embryo and cannot produce an embryo:

Because the alterations are made before the somatic cell nucleus is transferred into the egg, the result of the ANT procedure is a cell whose DNA and pattern of gene expression are not only altered, but altered from the very start. Therefore from the very start it does not have the capacity for the integrated organization and coordinated development that characterize a human embryo. This is clearest in the case of ANT-OAR where the cell directly behaves like a pluripotent cell.

Elsewhere, in his bioethics presentation to the President, he gives this explanation for why the result of ANT is not a "living organism":

The moral argument for Altered Nuclear Transfer is grounded in the emerging science of systems biology. According to this radical revision of our prevailing reductionistic views, an organism is a living whole, a dynamic network of interdependent and integrated parts.

There are essential subsystems of growth (cells, tissues and organs), but a living being is more than the sum of its parts, and the parts are dependent on the integrated unity of the whole. Fully constituted, the organism is a self-sustaining and harmonious whole, a unified being with an inherent principle of organization that orders and guides its continuity of growth. In the human embryo, this principle of organismal unity is an engaged and effective potential-in-process, an activated dynamic of development in the direction of the mature human form. Incompletely constituted or severed from the whole, subsystems with partial trajectories of development may temporarily proceed forward with a certain biological momentum. Ultimately, however, they fail to rise to the level of the coordinated coherence of a living organism and become merely disorganized cellular growth.

This is dangerous ground, for several reasons. Unaltered, the somatic cell and egg would fuse, begin mitosis, and the resulting embryo would proceed on to further development. Altered, the somatic cell and egg would fuse, begin mitosis (note, again, at this point, the organism is an embryo) - identical to the unaltered organism, except that it has been genetically robbed of its inherent ability to develop. Let me reiterate: the moment a zygote containing 23 paired human chromosomes divides, an embryo exists; a non-viable embryo, to be sure - but an embryo, nonetheless. ANT proponents can argue the moral impact of the creation of a non-viable embryo, but to claim that ANT does not produce an embryo is a fallacy. Two arguments:

  • First, NT produces a zygote, which upon first division becomes - by definition - an embryo.
  • Second, ANT does not produce stem cells directly, but an organism containing stem cells. As was demonstrated above, the entity containing stem cells is an embryo at the blastocyst stage.

So, coming back to Parableman's comment:

I think what they're doing is not like producing a human being that is alive and unable to grow but more like producing a corpse with still-living material. But it's not producing a corpse by killing an organism. It's more like producing a corpse by putting together materials that are incapable of being an organism.

Hopefully you can see now that the rationalization for the entity created from ANT being non-living (or non-human, or whatever term they choose to use) is to re-define the meaning of "living":"Fully constituted, the organism is a self-sustaining and harmonious whole, a unified being with an inherent principle of organization that orders and guides its continuity of growth. In the human embryo, this principle of organismal unity is an engaged and effective potential-in-process, an activated dynamic of development in the direction of the mature human form." Again, unaltered, the embryo would progress along the natural developmental path; altered, the embryo is denied that natural development.

This rationalization is crudely analagous to genetically altering the hypothalamus or androgen/LH receptor genes of a child, inhibiting that child from progressing through puberty into adulthood, and then claiming that, because the child is unable to progress along his natural developmental path, that he is not "living".

Remember, the somatic cell is inherently capable of development into a fully developed entity. This concept is the entire basis of SCNT. Thus, the somatic cell is in no way materials that are incapable of being an organism, nor is it like "corpse with still-living material.

The moral and ethical concerns of genetically altering a potential human life are myriad, and better left for another day. My point here is only to clarify the process of ANT and the nature of the entities involved beforehand and produced as a result.

Finally, Parableman's comment:

...I think it's misleading to describe it as a living embryo and then preventing it from growing.

The embryo resulting from SCNT inherently progresses along its natural development path. The embryo resulting from ANT begins progressing along that same natural development path, but has been genetically inhibited from completing that path. It reaches at least the blastocyst stage - as evidenced by its development of embryonic stem cells.

ANT does not directly produce stem cells; it produces an embryo that develops stem cells as part of its natural developmenet process. Again, argue the moral/ethical issues surrounding the creation of an embryo genetically altered to inhibit its development; but the claim that ANT does not produce a human embryo is unequivocally untrue.