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Friday, April 29, 2005

Eyes of Nye

I just caught my first episode of Eyes of Nye, from the fellow formerly know as Bill Nye the Science Guy, aimed at young voting aged viewers. Even though it was my first, it was episode 4, "Cloning". You can check out Mr. Nye's website at http://eyesofnye.org/.
They were exploring the ethics of human cloning, a subject which some people think is not ethical.

At least part of the controversy stems (pun?) from the fact that we do not (and may never) know at what point life begins. I will ask this question, "Why do we not apply the same tests as when life ends?" If we can say that someone is dead because they do not have brain function, or cannot sustain homeostasis, then somehow it becomes acceptable to "harvest" their organs (do doctors call it harvest, because they can have a harvest festival after?) "Well," you may say, "how would you check a newborns brain function?" One way might be to use a PET scan of the brain to check the connection between the eyes and the occipital lobe. But what if the body in question is blind?

More questions arise as you think about it, what about these bodies that makes them incapable of maintaining homeostasis? Couldn't they be fixed with, oh say, stem cell replacement? Could that redefine our understanding of where life begins and ends?

My own personnal thoughts about all this, at the moment are that as long as there's life there's hope. Not everything made from human cells is a human (skin graphs are applied from cells grown in a lab, for instance.) Nobody has reservations about treating burn victims. So, what makes cells grown from a haploid cell so different? A haploid cell would just die without a complete copy of DNA, whether it was in a nurturing environment or not. I think that the mind is what makes any of us human, and even that is not well defined. Gorillas have been taught language, but that does not make them human, they possess intelligence at some level, more than some people I've experienced perhaps. But gorillas are gorillas, mind or not, intelligence or not.

What constitutes human thought? Is the desire to live one of those thoughts? Lower animals exhibit the desire to live, does that make them human or make that question one that should not be considered?

The episode speaks of the possibility that using "mature" DNA may not be ethical because we might produce clones that may die earlier. Well, from everything I've read, I say the answer to that would be the use of an enzyme named telomerase. Telemerase is normally found in cancer cells. On the other hand it does not cause cancer. It does replace the telemeres on DNA, the structures at the ends of the strands that cause DNA to start its recombination, kind of like the piece on the end of a jacket zipper (ever tried to start a zipper without that?)

Telomerase may be the answer to mankind's search for eternal youth. Unfortunately, getting it to all cells in an existing body would prove nigh impossible. But it could be incorporated into an egg cell. In this case, a clone could easily be superior to a human from which its DNA was harvested. And if it were used for stem cells, then those would be superior to "ordinary" stem cells. This would be as close as we as existing humans could come to a fountain of youth. But we could not pass on the telomerase, a clone might. It might be necessary to actually insert telomerase into the mitocondria of those cells as well, since mitocondria contain their own set of DNA, and are necessary for cells to obtain energy. But, there are those possibilities.

Gee, I'm kinda off subject. Or maybe, I'm just off.

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1 Comments:

At Friday, July 1, 2005 at 3:41:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous $visitorIP said...

Hi. Nice blog article on cloning, etc.

You might be interested to know that Geron corporation has found a natural extract that can be used in low doses to activate telomerase in the body. They are using it to combat AIDS by restoring white blood cells' telomeres, with some marked success.

www.geron.com

I think so much of telomerase, I even bought a domain name a few years ago: www.telomerase.org

Cheers!

Andrew Straw
andrewudstraw@yahoo.com

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