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Biotech Science

First Genetically Modified Human Embryo Under Review 509

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the gattaca-suing-for-patent-infringement dept.
Wired is reporting that Cornell University researchers genetically modified a human embryo in 2007, but have only recently been gaining publicity as their work is being reviewed. "The research raises a number of thorny ethical questions. Though adding a fluorescent protein was merely a proof-of-principle step, scientists say that modified embryos could be used to research human diseases. They say embryos wouldn't be allowed to develop for more than a few weeks, much less implanted in a woman and brought to term."
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First Genetically Modified Human Embryo Under Review

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  • Anyone else getting a 404 "feed not found" page back from feeds.wired.com?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:02PM (#23384644)
    Does that mean the kid would have an annoying hum if born?
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:02PM (#23384648) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't that mean they were murdered? That is if you accept the religious side of the house...

    • by vertinox (846076) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:10PM (#23384758)
      Wouldn't that mean they were murdered? That is if you accept the religious side of the house...

      As much as you murder millions of children every night with bottle of lotion and a box of kleenex...
      • by Bryansix (761547) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:28PM (#23384970) Homepage
        I think not. Most people can differentiate between the potential for life (semen and eggs) and actual life itself (autonomous life including self-replicating cells that may or may not have certain dependencies for life; don't we all?).
        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          I think not. Most people can differentiate between the potential for life (semen and eggs) and actual life itself (autonomous life including self-replicating cells that may or may not have certain dependencies for life; don't we all?).

          For what value of "most people"?

          A popular line of reasoning says that birth control pills = abortion because they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. They may or may not understand what you're saying, but either way they disagree with your definitions. That isn't something that can be resolved (through education for example).

        • Even if an egg is fertilized by a sperm, there are a thousands of things that can go wrong that would cause it to just never divide, divide wrongly and get auto-aborted, not settle to the lining in the womb and get auto-aborted, nevermind complications further down the road that could cause a late auto-abortion or a stillborn delivery. At which point are any of the above examples ever a life?

          Without defining 'life' we can't really define whether something had a potential for life in the first place... if y
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Danny Rathjens (8471)
          Nope. "life" does not enter the equation at all. Most people other than Buddhist monks have few qualms about killing a mosquito or cockroach that we all agree is alive. My theory is that it is simply about the human instinct to like the similar and dislike the different. Dogs are like us, social mammals, so killing them is bad. Roaches are alien critters - certainly alive - but quite different than ourselves and hterefore it is ok to kill them.

          So the people against abortion are thinking of a blastocyst
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jc42 (318812)
          Most people can differentiate between the potential for life (semen and eggs) and actual life itself (autonomous life including self-replicating cells that may or may not have certain dependencies for life; don't we all?).

          Nope. It is pretty well understood in scientific circles that the issue of "when life begins" was settled a couple of centuries ago. The answer: It doesn't, at least not on our planet at this time. Life only continues from previous life; it doesn't arise spontaneously from non-living m
    • by Toonol (1057698) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:44PM (#23385154)
      Just to nitpick, you don't need to be religious to view abortion as murder. Just as some religious people are ok with it.
  • what's with the link (Score:5, Informative)

    by slig (1233832) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:03PM (#23384654)
    I'm sure it can't have been slashdotted already. Alternate source here [wired.com]
  • by the_humeister (922869) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:05PM (#23384696)
    We have glowing mice and they're doing fine. Why not a glowing human? I think that would be pretty nifty. I really don't see why there would be people who are against such things. This has other implications too. Imagine if we could remove the defect that causes Huntington disease in an embryo. Would people have ethical issues with that?
  • No, I don't want to be preaching "gloom and doom," but it does raise ethical questions. The biggest question: are the ethical questions that such an act raises actual issues of right and wrong, or are they simply the products of Western culture and my own philosophical prejudices? Here's the corrected link. [wired.com]
    • by flaming error (1041742) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:28PM (#23384972) Journal

      are the ethical questions ... actual issues of right and wrong, or are they ... my own philosophical prejudices?
      Great question, but aren't "right and wrong" culturally defined? Or is there some objective cosmic value system we can mathematically derive?
      • by Nerdposeur (910128) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:41PM (#23385104) Journal

        Great question, but aren't "right and wrong" culturally defined?

        If right and wrong are culturally defined (not just specific application, but the general principles), I would argue that they don't exist. There is a big difference between "I/we prefer you don't do X" and "X is wrong."

        Imagine that you're walking down the street and trip on someone's foot. You're annoyed, right? Now imagine that you realize the person tripped you on purpose, and is laughing. Now you're indigent. Tripping people is wrong!

        Clearly your anger has less to do with the pain of falling than with your deep-seated feeling that "it's wrong to harm others." You would not describe this as a preference.

        Whatever we say about the source of morality, I think everyone feels that certain things are simply wrong. To deny this removes an important aspect of what it means to be human.

        I know that someone will say that different cultures have different concepts of morality, but I don't buy it. There are different applications, yes; but no culture values cowardice and treason and murder. Some cultures defend their genocide and slavery by arguing that the victims aren't human, for example, but they do this because they must justify their actions against the standard that genocide and slavery are wrong. Our instinct to make excuses shows that we agree with the standard.

  • by farbles (672915) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:12PM (#23384778)

    Number 1: More intelligence. Hoo boy do we need this one implemented ASAP.

    Number 2: Respiratory bypass system. No more choking to death on pretzels.

    Number 3: Two hearts. Works for the Time Lords, howzabout it working for us?

    Number 4: Reinforced cerebral circulatory system. No more strokes.

    Number 5: Smarter immune system. Get rid of cancer and AIDS before they start, no more auto-immune diseases.

    Number 6: Smart metabolism. Good-bye unwanted pounds, save your ass if you crash in the Andes without making your co-survivors menu items.

    And so on. Look, we can stand some species improving. Save the default in the genes as a backup and let's get splicing here.

    • by Afecks (899057) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:24PM (#23384938)

      Save the default in the genes as a backup and let's get splicing here.
      Goddamn sploicers!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by $0.02 (618911)
      Number 7: Profit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DavidD_CA (750156)
      Prior art [imdb.com].
    • by TheNarrator (200498) on Monday May 12, 2008 @06:15PM (#23385472)
      Why do "rogue nations" pursue boring 60 year old nuclear weapons technologies when they could instead have armies of super intelligent, pretzel proof, two-hearted, stroke proof, aids proof, super-metabolic super warriors?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kurt555gs (309278)
      Am I the only one here that has no problem with the genetic engineering of humans? Why wait millions of years for evolution to fix things that are obvious?

      There are many things we do not know, but many we do. Why not make beter people? I see it no different that giving antibiotics for strep throat, or immunizing against the flu.

      We have upset normal genetics with life saving medicine so as to prolong the life of beings that really shouldn't be from a strict Darwinian sense.

      If we can make stronger, smarter
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jmorris42 (1458) *
        > Am I the only one here that has no problem with the genetic engineering
        > of humans? Why wait millions of years for evolution to fix things that
        > are obvious?

        Because we are currently clueless. When it comes to understanding how biology actually works we aren't even close to being ready to do more than randomly tinker and watch what happens. That is fine for plants and unless you are a PETA member you are probably OK with that for aminals up to some point where most people go YUCK! The exact poi
  • Could Be Worse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:15PM (#23384814)
    Children are born to parents who don't want them, they neglect them, abuse them, and even kill them.

    There are parents who know they have medical problems related to their genetics, and yet are still selfish enough to "try for one" instead of adopting one of the 50,000+ or so that die of starvation somewhere in the world.

    There are people out there who believe that having a baby can help save their relationship / marriage, and so create a whole human being just so they don't have to face up to the fact that they don't belong with somebody.

    There are a host of ethical issues about this genetically modified human embryo, but nothing worse than already exists in the world today.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by syousef (465911)
      There are parents who know they have medical problems related to their genetics, and yet are still selfish enough to "try for one" instead of adopting one of the 50,000+ or so that die of starvation somewhere in the world.

      Before trying to create a master race, name me one person that doesn't have some genetic medical problems. Where do you draw the line?
      - High blood pressure?
      - Flat feet?
      - Short or far sightedness?
      - Hearing difficulties?
      - Sleep apnea?
      - Cancer in the family?
      - Heart disease in the family?
      - Obe
  • by Bragador (1036480) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:20PM (#23384898)

    At this age they are not self aware. Basically they don't know they exist. I don't see the difference between studying an embryo of that age and studyng plants.

    We are already using animals that are aware of their existance in labs. Apes can recognise themselves in front of a mirror and we are using them so I feel this is really not a big issue and we should let science go ahead.

    Now I'm going to start a very heated debate. We know that babies start to be self aware around the age of 2 so if you really want to test my logic I'll tell you my opinion. We could logically use babies to make tests. Why this horrifies people is because they are attached to their own babies but since these newborns are not sentient yet, where is the harm in using "lab babies"? They would have to be grown in artificial wombs and all that to dehumanize them but logically it shouldn't be stopped.

    I might be modded down for opening a can of worms but try to have fun with this ethical puzzle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ArsonSmith (13997)
      I'm fine with it. I'm fine with abortions up to the 75th trimester.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LithiumX (717017)
      When you're deciding on who gets human rights, and who doesn't, you have to err on the side of caution.

      For example, assuming wild swings in opinion over time (as tends to happen), would you be more concerned about chimpanzees being granted full human rights (something I consider overly drastic), or about the severely retarded (and I mean severely - minimally functional vs a funny-looking slow guy who can't make it on his own) having their rights downgraded due to missing critical elements of a human mind
    • by NonSequor (230139)
      If you reduce all ethical questions to their impact on the conscious experiences of humans, you're going to end up wandering into "Brave New World" territory.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mr. Roadkill (731328)

      where is the harm in using "lab babies"? They would have to be grown in artificial wombs and all that to dehumanize them but logically it shouldn't be stopped.

      And once we're there, it's only a stone's throw to cloning complete organisms for organ harvesting for transplants - and vat-grown beef, pork, lamb and even long-pig.

      Actually, on the subject of cloning for organ harvesting, I see no reason why that couldn't be done provided brain development was suppressed...and maybe the reproductive system t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      We know that babies start to be self aware around the age of 2

      Citation needed. We don't give rights based on ability, and I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a world where what you were capable of determined your legal status. We tried that once [schoolnet.co.uk] or twice [hnn.us], wasn't pretty. Even if babies weren't sentient, that still wouldn't make it ethical.

  • I have added fluorescent protein in the lab with e. Coli and it is very simple. There have been quite a few more unusual experiments that involve taking human brain cells and growing them in mice and adding human genes to animals. I think the door is already wide open as they can claim it is not human if it does not have 100% human genome. I wonder if this non human gene is in a human, then are they not human any more by this definition?
  • We could both be fluorescent!
  • by unity100 (970058)

    "They say embryos wouldn't be allowed to develop for more than a few weeks, much less implanted in a woman and brought to term."
    this is what it would be like if governments said "nuclear energy is going to be used for peaceful purposes only" back in 1930s.
  • by BearRanger (945122) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:36PM (#23385064)
    In the long run the Cornell scientists have probably done a good thing, as I'm sure this will be a milestone in manipulating our genome. A great proof of concept. But you have to wonder if, as a species, we're ready for this.

    Few people would object to using genetic manipulation to eliminate diseases or birth defects. What about homosexuality? Or dark skin? Or some other socially marginalized trait that has no bearing on the genetic fitness of the individual? What effect would "enhanced humans" have on a society built by "mundane" humans?

    I personally believe we don't yet have the wisdom or foresight necessary to manipulate our genes. Until we can reach some sort of ethical consensus on the how, why and when of human genome manipulation we should collectively say no.
    • by BlueHands (142945)
      This is just another stage of the evolution we have been doing for billions of years. If we select out some trait that we need, evolution will let us know by the only way it knows: death.

      Or turn it around:

      We will never know if we are wise enough for something until we try. We have no outside source to consult, no oracle to give guidance, no teacher to give us passing marks. Internally there will always be those who are not ready, who will not want it.

      In fact, I will disagree with myself slightly and say we
    • I personally believe we don't yet have the wisdom or foresight necessary to manipulate our genes

      Nonsense. What do you think the thousands-of-years-old practice of arrangement marriages was all about? Not strictly village economics. Parents also sized up prospective mates for their kids based on the health, history, and talents of thei prospective mate and his/her family. Yeah, yeah, eugenics. Except, that's exactly what it is, and was for a long time.

      We can (the old fasioned way) make new specialized
  • by jdb2 (800046) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:40PM (#23385100) Journal
    First, I haven't RTFA due to the /. effect but I can tell you that the "thorny moral questions" being raised are caused by the media's incorrect use of the word "embryo" -- either to cater to a dumbed down audience or to be "politically (in)correct" such as to not anger the fundies too much.

    There are *2* stages of development before the blob of a few hundred cells is considered an "embryo". First, there's the formation of the zygote after fertilization, and then there's the formation of the blastocyst. The blastocyst is basically a hollow fluid filled sphere consisting of an outer layer of trophoblast cells which eventually become the placenta and an inner blob of cells called the embryoblast which eventually forms the embryo after the blastocyst phase.

    When talking of "embryos", scientists are usually talking about the extracted embryoblast cells which are pluripotent stem cells. These cells are *NOT* viable and are just that : cells -- they're not going to grow into a baby, or an "embryo" for that matter. Even I would be upset if it were found out that the real embryo, after the start of cell differentiation, had been tampered with.

    To conclude, stem cells are not embryos -- they're just a multiplying blob of undifferentiated pluripotent Human cells and as such, they should be put in the same class as pond scum, although pond scum is actually far more highly developed -- the aforementioned stem cells cannot survive outside of a Petri dish (unless they're implanted into another nutrient source, such as the Human body for purposes of healing)

    jdb2

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NonSequor (230139)
      I figured that they were probably talking about a mass of undifferentiated cells, but I don't think that dismisses all questions here.

      I have no problem with stem-cells being collected from an embryoblast to create a culture. However, if the cells of a zygote or embryoblast are genetically modified in place without disrupting its structure so that it would develop into an embryo if allowed to proceed along its current course then it falls into a gray area. The article doesn't make it clear exactly what was d
    • by Crazy Taco (1083423) on Monday May 12, 2008 @06:04PM (#23385368)

      Many would accuse you of dodging the issue with that definition. The problem is that to get those stem cells, a fertilized human egg is, at some point, stopped from developing farther. If life begins at conception, trying to tell people you only killed a blastocyst, not an embryo, isn't going to do much for you.

    • by Toonol (1057698) on Monday May 12, 2008 @06:09PM (#23385402)
      And the ethics of a particular matter can sometimes really hinge on nitty-gritty specific details. Thanks for your post.

      I would be against genetically modifying a viable human fetus, or even something that would normally develop into one. However, I wouldn't be against culturing human cells, and would love to hear that they're growing kidneys in a lab someday.

      But when you're doing experiments on individual stem cells, it becomes hard to tell those two situations apart, and our common-sense notions of morality get befuddled. It's like an ethical version of quantum mechanics.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axlotl_tank [wikipedia.org]

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