Last April, motivated by rumors of a Chinese paper published the next month that physically demonstrated the technical feasibility of editing human germline DNA with CRISPR by successfully modifying human embryos, a coalition of well regarded scientists assembled to address this fundamentally new ability and they called for an international summit. It was to be billed as a new Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA for a new age in order to lead a new global conversation on questions of whether and how to control human inheritance, which could only be dreamed of 40 years ago. This is a fundamental departure from the non-inheritable gene engineering with CRISPR covered on the blue recently. Thus, from December 1-3, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, held as a collaborative effort between U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and The Royal Society, met to discuss the future of this technology and has come out with a clear consensus statement. [more inside]
Liam Burke is a baby. He has just learned to crawl. He was conceived through in vitro fertilization, one of several embryos made for his parents, and kept in a freezer. What makes Liam special is how long he was in that freezer: the embryo that became Liam Burke was kept "on file" for 19 years.
Art. 6(2)(c) of Directive 98/44/EC, passed by the EU Parliament and Council back in 1998, ruled that, among other things, "uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes" were to be considered unpatentable because of their being contrary to "ordre public" or morality. After German researcher Prof. Dr. Oliver Bruestle was granted a patent concerning a method for creating nerve precursor cells on the basis of embryonic stem cells, Greenpeace Germany (in German) filed a lawsuit for annulment of the patent. The German Federal Court of Justice then referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether embryonic stem cell therapy constitutes such a use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes, under Directive 98/44/EC. [more inside]
There has been a new discipline developing in molecular biology for some time now, Bioanimation! Projects have ranged in size from WEHI's colossal compilation to Harvard Biovision's magnum opus "Inner Life of the Cell" to commercially produced masterpieces to smaller projects by university PIs and enthusiasts. much [more inside]
New Microscope Enables Real-Time 3-D Movies of Developing Embryos. "A European lab combines "light sheet" microscopy with an illumination process that subtracts the static caused by scattered photons to devise a way to clearly observe the inner workings of cells over a period of days. Using a revolutionary new microscope, scientists can now peer into embryos and watch, in one of the world's smallest 3-D movies, as brains, eyes and other organs form." Slide Show: New Microscope Enables Real-Time 3-D Movies of Developing Embryos. The video can be viewed at the bottom of the page.
With the passing of Executive Order 13505, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells, in 2009 President Obama expanded federal funding and rescinded George W. Bush's policies that eliminated most federal funding and restricted human embryonic stem cell research to the use of existing, contaminated cell lines. On Monday, federal judge Royce C. Lamberth blocked this new order after protestations from James L. Sherley, a former scientist with the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, who operates the Ave Maria Biotechnology Company, which aims to do "pro-life" therapeutic research without the "taint of embryonic or electively aborted fetal materials". [more inside]
First cloning of monkey embryo raises hope of a great leap in medical science. A team at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (itself no stranger to controversy) cloned embryos from Semos — a nine-year-old rhesus macaque named after the ape overlord in Planet of the Apes — then extracted stem cells from the embryos. We've heard similar claims before and they turned out to be a hoax. But this time it looks like the real deal. [more inside]
Amazing photos of human fetal development from conception to birth.
$20,000 and you can choose the gender of your next kid. You'd think you'd have to go to the Caribbean or someplace to do it but the practice of gender selective preimplantation genetic diagnosis is alive and well in the United States. (Note how the medical link DOES NOT have an indication for using the procedure for gender selection). Some have already been concerned about a slippery slope. And, it seems regulatory agencies would rather not say anything about the issue so as to let the technology improve and see what we can and can't select in our embryos. Could this be the next big issue in the culture v. science v. religion wars?
Kicking a dead horse with mammalian feet evolved from ancient mammal-like reptiles that, in turn, evolved from fish.
Evolution just won't go away. New evidence suggests the development of the human embryo mirrors our species' course of evolution. This guy seems to be stirring up all kinds of trouble these days. It makes me wonder: does this new information help determine the quality of being human? From the link: "Another supposed vagary produced by the abortion issue is the question as to when the embryo or fetus becomes human. Rivers Singleton, Jr. states in his article in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, that, for some, conception defines the point of being human, whereas, for others, various periods of development suffice to 'distinguish human from non-humans.'"
The False Controversy of Stem Cell Research. Kinsley: In fact, thinking it through is a moral obligation, especially if you are on the side of the argument that wants to stop or slow this research. It's not complicated. An embryo used in stem-cell research (and fertility treatments) is three to five days past conception. It consists of a few dozen cells that together are too small to be seen without a microscope. It has no consciousness, no self-awareness, no ability to feel love or pain. The smallest insect is far more human in every respect except potential.
“Hybrid Humans” Very early on in the womb, two fertilized eggs that would have normally created fraternal twins will occasionally fuse to form one embryo, producing a "chimera": one person with two sets of DNA. The link goes to a Nature article, here is an NPR piece.
The Visible Embryo. "This spiral represents the 23 stages occurring in the first trimester of pregnancy and every two weeks of the second and third trimesters. Use the spiral to navigate through the 40 weeks of pregnancy and preview the unique changes in each stage of human development." via The Eyes Have It, which sadly looks as if it hasn't been updated since February, but still has much of interest to offer.
Bush and Pro-Lifers call for complete ban on any clone or stem cell research. The movement for a ban got a significant boost Tuesday when Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would support the cloning ban legislation, which the Senate is expected to debate in the weeks ahead. Though not a surprise, the announcement from Frist, a heart-transplant surgeon, is important because his views on medical topics are respected by many in Congress. "Many are overpromising on the science" benefits that are possible from cloning, Frist told reporters. He also said creating a human embryo "for reason of experimentation leads to destruction of that embryo and to me that is morally unacceptable."
The Multi-Dimensional Human Embryo Project uses MRI techniques to produce nifty images and amazing movies (quicktime required) of what we all looked like when we were wee ones.