Cloning technique could bring species back from extinction

Tomas Martin @ 18-04-2008

This Northern White Rhino lives at San Diego ZooIt seems to be a week for biological-related stories here on Futurismic. Using skin cells from the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino, scientists can reprogram them back to an embryonic state, from which they can create sperm and eggs with the animal’s genes. An animal can then be created in vitro or through a surrogate mother from the Southern species of White Rhino. There are only 3 or 4 of the Northern variety left in the wild.

Professor Robert Millar, the director of the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, who is leading the study, said: “There are a lot of African animals under the threat of extinction. We want to protect their genomes, but you have to protect their habitats as well. This is one of the ways of dealing with the problem, especially when the animals get to such low numbers in the wild. It is a method we need to start to get into place as an insurance policy – it’s clearly do-able according to the laboratory work.”

This poses an extremely interesting moral dilemma. Is it worse to clone an animal or to let its species go extinct? And if the animal was cloned, does that make it a legal member of the species?

[via the Independent, Northern White Rhino in San Diego Zoo picture by Eliya]


Stem Cells show major breakthrough in treatment of Parkinson’s

Tomas Martin @ 26-03-2008

Is this a cure or should we leave it alone?The UK parliament this week is considering a wide-reaching bill on stem-cell research. Under pressure from a number of religious groups, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has allowed MPs to have a ‘free vote’ on certain parts of the bill. There’s no doubt that stem cells are a tricky moral issue – are they to be considered alive, or just a group of cells like a skin transfusion?

Meanwhile, a study of stem cell use has shown that they can make a great deal of impact in reversing the effects and possibly curing Parkinson’s disease. Other degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers are also thought to be potentially cured by treatment with stem cells. The big advantage to this latest scientific discovery is that the mice in the study did not reject the stem cells, a major step forward in the useability of the treatment.

To be sure the issue is a very complex one. Is it better to not play around with cells taken from embryos, even those that would only be disposed of? Is it a can of worms best left alone or are the moral quandaries worth it for the difference that could be made to the many people with diseases stem cells are thought to help? It’s a difficult choice but one we’ll have to face in the coming decades. Scientists are making great advances in the field and sooner or later will produce cures for some diseases. We’ll have to choose whether it’s right to use them or not.

[picture via BBC]


UK government green-lights hybrid embryo research

Paul Raven @ 06-09-2007

In a rare move of clear-eyed sanity, the British government has given scientists provisional permission to create non-viable human/animal hybrid embryos – for research purposes. Apparently surveys discovered that – once the actual limits and realities of the science were explained – most people were “at ease” with the idea. Perhaps once it’s seen to be safe, attitudes elsewhere may loosen up as well.