OK, cue the first GM babies.
May 4, 2001 10:14 AM   Subscribe

OK, cue the first GM babies. This time the men in white coats have crossed the line.
posted by CatherineB (44 comments total)

 
These are frightening, frightening times we live in.
So, if the government didn't fund it, who did? You'd think a project like that would have to have massive financial backing. What corporation is responsible?
posted by TiggleTaggleTiger at 10:24 AM on May 4, 2001


Call me an old man, but I'm still having trouble shifting my primary identification of the letters "GM" from "General Motors" to "Genetically Modified". I guess it's a cultural shift about to happen.
posted by kokogiak at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2001


that really small brown smudge on that diagram of the 'human egg'.

aesthetics.

:P
posted by jcterminal at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2001


Is this why they refer to America as the Great Melting Pot?
This is that little story we are all going to wish we had paid more attention to when we look back in ten years.
posted by alsaiz at 10:29 AM on May 4, 2001


Infertility pioneer Lord Winston of the Hammersmith Hospital in London told BBC News Online that he had great reservations about it. "There is no evidence that this is a possible valuable treatment for infertility."

The (as many as) thirty new sets of parents might beg to differ.
posted by ewagoner at 10:29 AM on May 4, 2001


The additional genes were taken from a healthy donor and used to overcome their mother's infertility problems.

Those inhuman monsters!

"There is no evidence that this is a possible valuable treatment for infertility," he added.

Well, unless this case is evidence. The article doesn't offer any opinions on that.

Professor Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario in Canada told BBC News Online: "Now is not the time to bring in human germline gene therapy through the back door."

Back door? This is being reported on the BBC, without any inference of secrecy--just that all the science was done without government cash. So privately funded research is the "back door," even if it's widely reported in the mainstream press? I'm not saying we shouldn't be debating the idea of genetic alterations, but if we could keep the scaremongering down to a minimum, that would be nice. And CatherineB, nothing personal . . . but I would regard the use of the shopworn phrase "men in white coats" as just that sort of thing.
posted by Skot at 10:38 AM on May 4, 2001


I'm not listening to you, you're only 73.6% my Mom!
posted by quirked at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2001


Oh yeah, parents who previously could not have had children now have a child. This is so terribly evil! What are these non-officially sanctioned, non-government-funded monsters *doing* over there? They must be stopped! Quick, before we find a cure for Downs Syndrome!
posted by jammer at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2001


What makes it even more frightening: the scientific community doesn't even know what mitochondrial DNA does (and that's what they used in these 'experiments'). Besides the DNA in the nucleus of the cell, there's also DNA in mitochondria (the energy factories of the cell). So we're messing about with something that we don't know a whole lot about.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the human race...
posted by nonharmful at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2001


Jammer: sorry, where's the right for infertile parents to have a child? Which book is it written in? Why do the desires of thirty couples to breed trump any possible ethical considerations about genetic midification of human beings? Why are their sperm/eggs so fucking important?

What's the Bill Hicks quote about the miracle of childbirth, again?

And no, "The Good Book" doesn't count.
posted by solistrato at 11:03 AM on May 4, 2001


Instead of everyone just rushing to agree with each other that this is Very Very Bad, can someone state why? Other than FUD, that is.
posted by aaron at 11:07 AM on May 4, 2001


So we're messing about with something that we don't know a whole lot about.

I suppose we have to start learning *somewhere*. Okay, perhaps this wasn't the best starting point...

But when I think about the long-term ramifications of this, I feel sorry for those kids. I have no problems with geneering as such, but... They're going to be experimental subjects for the rest of their lives. If/when they make it to puberty, is someone going to have to sit down and have a talk with them about not spreading their genes? Will they be allowed to marry, reproduce normally? If they have kids, will *they* be experimental subjects, too?

That's the real ethical can of worms here. Are these people ever going to have a normal life? I'm not sure.

/me sits back and waits for a rant from the 'GM is evil, and so is having kids' crowd.
posted by darukaru at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2001


solistrato:
Who says it's a right? Who says it's wrong, either?

Why do the desires of thirty couples to breed trump any possible ethical considerations about genetic midification of human beings?
genetic midification? Is that where GATCATCG is translated into MIDI? ;)

You seem to be approaching this from the view that the human race is by and large opposed to this, when many are not. People never act as a whole. And, so far, you haven't been hurt too badly by this, no?
If there is a specific forseeable threat, then you will have some justification for your complaint.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2001


So we're messing about with something that we don't know a whole lot about.

Uh . . . right. Some of us call that science. We're doing it so we can learn about it. We didn't know much about radioactivity when we started either (and there's tons we still don't know). Some people will point to the nuclear bomb and get scared and angry, others will point to their microwaves and CD players and be happy.

Solis, I'm not sure who was shouting for the rights of the infertile to have babies. Oh, wait, it wasn't anybody! But I'll go ahead and shout for the rights of scientists to conduct groundbreaking research.

Again, I'm not saying don't debate the issues surrounding this. But dropping dark hints about the extermination of the race doesn't qualify as informed opinion in my book.
posted by Skot at 11:13 AM on May 4, 2001


Will they be allowed to marry, reproduce normally?

Yes, unless a bunch of people who they've never met make an arbitrary decision to deny them the right to marry and reproduce normally, and then use the state to physically force that decision upon them.
posted by aaron at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2001



solistrato: funny, I was just searching a clip of bill hicks (man jack off) for another thread.
There you go:
"But where did this veneration of childbirth come from? I missed that meeting. Childbirth is wonderful, childbirth is a miracle. Wrong. It's no more a miracle than eating food and a turd coming out your ass."
posted by kush at 11:25 AM on May 4, 2001


[Skot] wrote:
Uh . . . right. Some of us call that science.

Yup, and as I'm working in medical science I know we sometimes take it a bit too far because we want to be 'the first'. That's why we need laws and regulation.

As long as long-term effects in animals have not been studied, humans have to wait.

Do we really want to play with the human race by mixing genes that were not brought together by 'nature'. This means we can inject the 'aggressive gene' (fragile X-syndrome) into cells and breed our own aggressive army (hmmm, boys of Brazil).
posted by nonharmful at 11:26 AM on May 4, 2001


Yup, and as I'm working in medical science I know we sometimes take it a bit too far because we want to be 'the first'. That's why we need laws and regulation.

No argument, nonharmful. I myself work in cancer research. That comment was in response to the "messing about" comment . . . probably a flip rejoinder to a flip comment itself. Anyway . . .

Long-term effects have been studied in flies and mice for years. How long will humans have to wait? Forever? Because that's how long it will take for genetic changes in animals to perfectly reflect what will happen in humans. Now, it can be argued that perhaps the ramifications are too scary in the long-term and that we should permanently ban genetic alteration research in humans. I can understand that. I've just been responding to, as aaron put it, FUD.
posted by Skot at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2001


How long will humans have to wait? Forever?
We have to think at least twice before we start genetically modifying humans. I do not know of any long-term research in primates other than humans.
No! We don't have to wait forever, but we could wait for at least the lifespan of a baboon (or a cow for that matter, as fertilization techniques usually originate in cows or sheep).
posted by nonharmful at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2001


Personally, I'm of the opinion that not only is there nothing wrong with this sort of thing, but I also think it's damn cool too. I'm not quite sure why anyone would consider this to be "unethical." I think many people too hung up on religious pretenses to give this sort of science a second thought.
posted by fusinski at 11:57 AM on May 4, 2001


Too scary? Permanent ban? God no. Since we've pretty much halted our own evolution we're gonna have to learn to do for ourselves what nature used to do for us. I really hope things don't turn out the way I described above... but sometimes, as hateful as it is, you *do* have to break a few eggs.
There are already enough of us who can't lead a normal life for one reason or another, and if this research eventually leads to us being able to prevent future generations from being born with physical and mental disabilities, or if we can improve the species as a whole, then the ends justify the means.
In a world with six billion people on it, humans aren't, and can't be, totally beautiful and unique snowflakes. But it doesn't mean human life has no value, and it doesn't stop me feeling sorry for those out on the frontier.
posted by darukaru at 11:58 AM on May 4, 2001


[darukaru] wrote:if this research eventually leads to us being able to prevent future generations from being born with physical and mental disabilities, or if we can improve the species as a whole, then the ends justify the means.

First point: there might be a 50-50 change we're not making the the species as a whole better, but worse. Do we want to take that change?

Second point: do we really want a society without physical and mental disabilities? Do we all need to be perfect and disease free?
posted by nonharmful at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2001


solistrato, I wasn't "defending the right to have a child" at all. I was simply pointing out that science is doing here what it does best: trying out new things so mankind can expand its knowledge, and hopefully better itself in the process.

I find this whole "genetic modification is bad/unnatural" thing to be, personally, nothing but pure ludditism glossed over in a new-agey "live and let live" veneer. It's just one step shy of accepting complete ignorance and sticking your head in the sand because you don't want to risk upsetting the apple cart.

If that's what you're going to do, why not go whole hog, join a religion, worship some magical fairy, and not pretend to be "rational"?

Sorry if this is a bit flamey. I've had a bad week.
posted by jammer at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2001


solistrato, I wasn't "defending the right to have a child" at all. I was simply pointing out that science is doing here what it does best: trying out new things so mankind can expand its knowledge, and hopefully better itself in the process.

I find this whole "genetic modification is bad/unnatural" thing to be, personally, nothing but pure ludditism glossed over in a new-agey "live and let live" veneer. It's just one step shy of accepting complete ignorance and sticking your head in the sand because you don't want to risk upsetting the apple cart.

If that's what you're going to do, why not go whole hog, join a religion, worship some magical fairy, and not pretend to be "rational"?

Sorry if this is a bit flamey. I've had a bad week.
posted by jammer at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2001


[Ugh... sorry for the double... stuttering posting finger]
posted by jammer at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2001


jammer, medical research has to be regulated. Not only by law but also by ethics. Do we really need another Thalidomide / Diethylstilbesterol disaster?
posted by nonharmful at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2001


This is really, really, really uncharacteristic for me. But I agree completely with aaron.

If you're going to go around telling parents they can't do this, you might as well start testing all parents and approving who can and can't have kids. Welcome to Gattaca.

I mean, how dare anyone tell these kids they themselves can't have kids, just because their genes came from more than two people? As for whether we're "experimenting" with the human race, well, guess what: anytime you marry somebody from outside your immediate family (and I hope most of us do so), you're experimenting with the future of your kids.

The implications of this are staggering ... for the promise they harbor for (by way of example) Huntington's disease, sickle cell anemia, and other widespread genetic disorders. For my part, I don't hear any argument above that wasn't raised twenty-five years ago, when the first "test-tube babies" were born: a technique that was greeted with the same irrational fears, and soon became a widely-accepted technique.
posted by dhartung at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2001


First point: there might be a 50-50 chance we're not making the the species as a whole better, but worse. Do we want to take that chance?

I'm not sure I can answer that, except to say that I don't think it's so simple as a straight 50-50 chance. So, mu.

Second point: do we really want a society without physical and mental disabilities? Do we all need to be perfect and disease free?

Perfect? No. Unfortunately, designer babies probably will be a side-effect of human genetic research. (Personally, the thought that you should be able to design your child from scratch makes me ill.)

Do we want a society where parents don't have to worry that their children will be born with Down's Syndrome, or without their full complement of arms, legs, or organs? Probably.

Ideally, we should still be rolling the dice... geneering should just be insurance against their coming up snake eyes.
posted by darukaru at 12:25 PM on May 4, 2001


[dhartung] wrote (IVF) ... a technique that was greeted with the same irrational fears, and soon became a widely-accepted technique.


and before we wonder what the complications of these new techniques (IVF, ICSI) are we, jump to the next level. There's science for you.....
This is just one example of recent studies:
IVF leads to an "approximately 3-fold excess risk in neural tube defects, alimentary atresia, omphalocele, and hypospadias (after intracytoplasmatic sperm injection). "
(Hum Reprod 2001 Mar;16(3):504-9). Pub Med
posted by nonharmful at 12:28 PM on May 4, 2001


Do we really want a society without physical and mental disabilities? Do we all need to be perfect and disease free?

Yes and yes, as long as we continue to be a society that looks down upon those with such disabilities, or at least celebrates physical and mental perfection (especially physical). This is a world where being more than 5 pounds overweight is a major stigma, and has serious negative repercussions for you socially and career-wise; needless to say, the repercussions are even worse for someone with, say, cerebral palsy. Since we as a society do absolutely nothing to stop this discrimination and bigotry, and, indeed, usually celebrate it (hint), we as a society have no right whatsoever to tell others they can't use any means necessary to prevent their children from have to suffer the ramifications of it.

It's very, very easy to be an armchair philosopher about the supposed good that comes from allowing physical and mental disabilites to continue to exist, so long as it's somebody else with the disabilities.
posted by aaron at 1:14 PM on May 4, 2001



From the direct link for nonharmful's cite:

Various explanations for these findings are discussed. It is postulated that the excess risk for alimentary atresia, like the excess risk for monozygotic twinning after IVF, is a direct consequence of the IVF procedure. The excess risk for hypospadias after ICSI may be related to paternal subfertility with a genetic background. The absolute risk for a congenital malformation in association with IVF is small.
posted by aaron at 1:18 PM on May 4, 2001



I think the government should fund this type of research.

This is going to happen. It's just a matter of time. The only way to stop it would be to convince every single person that it was too dangerous and should never be pursued. As humans we don't have a good track record with that type of thing.

I would prefer that it be publicly financed so that we can have some visibility and control over what's happening and what possible problems might arise.

It seems to me that the alternative is waiting for someone like Bill Gates or Hitler to do it behind closed doors. Do you really think Hitler wouldn't have done this? Do you really think some rich bastard wouldn't eventually do it?

It's going to happen. Terrible or not. Let's do it right.

Whatever that means.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:22 PM on May 4, 2001


First of all: "Luddite"? "Go believe in fairies"? Those are some well-reasoned, logical arguments. Way to defend your science!

Second of all: y6y6y6, you can't bring up Hitler this early!!!

Third of all: this "making peace with it" mentality - well, gosh, you know, it's gonna happen anyway, so might as well get used to it! - that's nihilism. "Gosh, nothing we can do anyway, might as well bend over now!" I refuse to buy into that shit.

Fourth of all: I do not trust governments or corporations to have the best interests of humanity in mind with this shit. What are humanity's best interests? Well, honestly, I don't know. I have my opinions, and I'm sure they differ than you. But I am pretty durn sure that the company that's financing this research isn't looking to save the world or anything - it's looking to make a profit. And when money is your concern, ethics are usually the first thing out the window. The profit motive is amoral.

Fifth of all: why do people react so strongly against genetic research and whatnot? Because I think there's this sense that the boundaries are being pushed too far, too fast. That maybe there should be some places where we leave well enough alone. That maybe, diving into the material that is the source of all life on the planet is too risky. Or that the ones doing it aren't trustworthy.

DNA is the serpent in the garden, and what happens if we trifle with it?

And as to that snide comment about faeries: I believe in faeries, spirits, orishas, angels, UFOs, and magic. I also believe in quantum mechanics, string theory, DNA, and gravity. So please, get off your atheist/materialist high horse. Science has no right to cast judgments on phenomena that are outside its boundaries.
posted by solistrato at 1:49 PM on May 4, 2001


darukaru said:
Since we've pretty much halted our own evolution

Actually, we haven't.

Still, it's a good point.

solistrato said:
So please, get off your atheist/materialist high horse. Science has no right to cast judgments on phenomena that are outside its boundaries.

Science is "accumulated and established knowledge, which has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws." Where is the boundary there that your faeries and whatnot fall beyond? If it is possible to have knowledge about these faeries, it is possible to use science to systematize and formulate general laws about them. If it is not possible to have knowledge about the faeries, how can they be said to exist at all?

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:57 PM on May 4, 2001


I stand corrected. Fascinating read, Mars.
posted by darukaru at 2:02 PM on May 4, 2001


"y6y6y6, you can't bring up Hitler this early!!!"

Oops. My bad.

" I refuse to buy into that shit."

Well then I'm wondering which shit you *are* buying.

I'm not saying make peace with it. I'm saying that I don't trust anyone with it, but I know for a fact it will happen. Damage control. That's what I'm talking about.

If a bio corp does this and patents the whole thing that would be bad. If some rich guy does something stupid with it that would be bad. If some (in my opinion) extremist leader does it that would be bad.

Something public, peer reviewed, and public domain seems the best bet.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:22 PM on May 4, 2001


Yes and yes, as long as we continue to be a society that looks down upon those with such disabilities, or at least celebrates physical and mental perfection (especially physical).

The two don't necessarily align, aaron. Pedigree dogs may be bred to a standard of perfection, but my family's mongrel is smarter than my sister's King Charles spaniel. (The attempt of the latter to chase cars has already proved that.) And if we're going to try and breed out the supposed aberrations, we'll take away the Beethovens and the Byrons. The thought of a human race bred for inclusion in People magazine horrifies me; my only consolation is that evolution, with mutation as its bootstrapping agent, appears to kick back at such homogenisation.

Anyway, this is completely under the scrutiny of Ruth Deech's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Committee here; though it's only time before people head to the US or to Italy to try it out.
posted by holgate at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2001


Yes and yes, as long as we continue to be a society that looks down upon those with such disabilities, or at least celebrates physical and mental perfection (especially physical). This is a world where being more than 5 pounds overweight is a major stigma, and has serious negative repercussions for you socially and career-wise;

Don't you think this is a problem that should be changed by educating society? I think that would accomplish a lot more than just messing with genes. I mean, look at body types. What is considered incredibly sexy today is not what used to be considered sexy. So what do we do, alter the human genetic code to abide by fashion? "New genes for this season!"

Since we as a society do absolutely nothing to stop this discrimination and bigotry, and, indeed, usually celebrate it

Hmm... this makes me think... what if someone decided to alter the genetic code to get rid of a certain race? It wouldn't be that hard, change a few genes that determine skin color, and poof! a whole world of white people.

I mean, once you're trying to get rid of everyone with a "deformity" or "illness," that can't be too far away.

we as a society have no right whatsoever to tell others they can't use any means necessary to prevent their children from have to suffer the ramifications of it.

Riiight. That's life. People like to hate people. You know even if we got rid of the fat people, the guys with thick glasses, acne, minorities, and disabilities, they'd still find people to make fun of? People to hate? Ways to divide themselves into opposed groups?
posted by dagnyscott at 4:52 PM on May 4, 2001


The god of the gaps. Miles and miles and not a gap in sight!
posted by crasspastor at 5:16 PM on May 4, 2001


Can we do something about the gene that produces acute moronism?
posted by lagado at 10:29 PM on May 4, 2001


Can we do something about the gene that produces acute moronism?


Was that meant for me lagado? 'Cause if it was, I didn't make it up, in fact I read it first, I believe, in Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World. Therefore, I'm not terribly crestfallen that you'd (presumably) be calling me a moron.

Mars Saxman's quote:
Science is "accumulated and established knowledge, which has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws." Where is the boundary there that your faeries and whatnot fall beyond? If it is possible to have knowledge about these faeries, it is possible to use science to systematize and formulate general laws about them. If it is not possible to have knowledge about the faeries, how can they be said to exist at all?

Reminded me of it.

Just think though, you too, can be even be smarter and have even stronger "moro-dar" than you already have!. I shudder to think of how the sheer number of morons the world supports would exponentially grow.
posted by crasspastor at 11:14 PM on May 4, 2001


You know, y'all, you're all getting a little ahead of yourselves. All they've done is transplant some mitochondria into the ova--the nuclear DNA hasn't been altered at all. Science is still far far far away from having the ability to fix simple genetic diseases like sickle-cell anemia, much less to engineer a race of super-strong super-smart Aryan uberbabies.

nonharmful--we actually do know a lot about mitochondrial DNA and what it does--the genome is pretty small. It codes for a few ribosomal RNAs and tRNAs, plus about a dozen proteins, all of whose functions are known. The rate of mutation of mitochondrial DNA is also known to be pretty constant through generations, which indicates that variation in the mitochondrial genome isn't particularly important, since it doesn't seem to respond to selective pressure.
posted by shylock at 1:24 AM on May 5, 2001


[Skylock] wrote:
The rate of mutation of mitochondrial DNA is also known to be pretty constant ..... variation in the mitochondrial genome isn't particularly important, since it doesn't seem to respond to selective pressure.

So, since mitochondrial DNA doesn't respond to selective pressure, it's not genetically important? Sorry, I disagree. We don't know how important it is. The fact that we know the dozen proteins it produces does not mean we know a lot about the impact on genetic evolution. The rate of mutations in mitochondrial DNA might just be an important and fast genetic adaptation process that could be important in survival.
posted by nonharmful at 1:39 AM on May 5, 2001


No, no, you're right, they're definitely important genes--they control all of that Krebbs cycle stuff. My point was just that mitochondrial DNA seems to change at a slower, more constant rate than nuclear DNA, suggesting that change is pretty well tolerated in the mitochondrial genome and doesn't impact the phenotype of the organism as much as normal DNA. So, really, it doesn't seem like it should be a big deal to move a few mitochondria from one cell into another.

I should say, though, that this metafilter link was the first I'd heard of this research, so I'll reserve my opinion on the procedure until I can actually read what gets reported in the literature. But in theory, it's really not a very big perturbation--certainly not as big a deal as, say, transplanting an entire nucleus.

And, jcterminal, about the "brown smudge"--if you meant the thing floating in the cytoplasm, that's a vacuuole. There should be lots of those. If you meant the thing in the nucleus.... yeah. I don't know what that's supposed to be, either. *shrug*
posted by shylock at 2:28 PM on May 5, 2001


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