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First synthetic embryos: the scientific breakthrough raises serious ethical questions

synthetic mouse.
Weizmann Institute of Sciences

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Christopher Gyngell, The University of Melbourne, and Tsutomu Sawai, Hiroshima University

Children, even some who are too young for school, know you can’t make a baby without sperm and an egg. But a team of researchers in Israel have called into question the basics of what we teach children about the birds and the bees, and created a mouse embryo using just stem cells.

It lived for eight days, about half a mouse’s gestation period, inside a bioreactor in the lab.

In 2021 the research team used the same artificial womb to grow natural mouse embryos (fertilised from sperm and eggs), which lived for 11 days. The lab-created womb, or external uterus, was a breakthrough in itself as embryos could not survive in petri dishes.

If you’re picturing a kind of silicone womb, think again. The external uterus is a rotating device filled with glass bottles of nutrients. This movement simulates how blood and nutrients flow to the placenta. The device also replicates the atmospheric pressure of a mouse uterus.

Some of the cells were treated with chemicals, which switched on genetic programmes to develop into placenta or yolk sac. Others developed into organs and other tissues without intervention. While most of the stem cells failed, about 0.5% were very similar to a natural eight-day-old embryo with a beating heart, basic nervous system and a yolk-sac.

These new technologies raise several ethical and legal concerns.

Read More »First synthetic embryos: the scientific breakthrough raises serious ethical questions

Engineering a Consensus:   Edit Embryos for Research, Not Reproduction

Written by Dr Chris Gyngell, Dr Tom Douglas and Professor Julian Savulescu

A crucial international summit on gene editing continues today in Washington DC. Organised by the US National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society, the summit promises to be a pivotal point in the history of the gene editing technologies.

Gene editing (GE) is a truly revolutionary technology, potentially allowing the genetic bases of life to be manipulated at will. It has already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat, hornless cows and cancer killing immune cells. All this despite the fact GE only become widely used in the past few years. The potential applications of GE in a decade are difficult to imagine. It may transform the food we eat, the animals we farm, and the way we battle disease.Read More »Engineering a Consensus:   Edit Embryos for Research, Not Reproduction

Clone me up, Scotty: A brief satirical history of cloning and ethical progress

Julian Savulescu

The 90s was a terrifying decade. Boris Yeltsin with his finger on the button. Fortunately he was too drunk some of the time to move. The Spice Girls. And Y2K. I bought plenty of water.

Civilisation came to the brink in 1997 when Ian Wilmut managed to play God and clone a mammal, a sheep called Dolly. International chaos ensued. The German Prime Minister said it would lead to “xeroxing people.” The European Parliament beat its breast, proclaiming cloning an affront to human dignity. It proudly asserted that every human being had a right to genetic individuality (let’s conveniently forget that 1/300 live births involve clones or identical twins that lack genetic individuality).

Read More »Clone me up, Scotty: A brief satirical history of cloning and ethical progress

Back to the Future: The Ethics of Cloning Neanderthals and Creating Genetically Modified Animals

“George Church, a genetics professor of Harvard School of Medicine, said that the process was possible and that far from being brutal and primitive, Neanderthals were intelligent beings.

They are believed to be one of the ancestors of modern man and became extinct 33,000 years ago. He added that altering the human genome could also provide the answers to curing diseases such as cancer and HIV, and hold the key to living to 120.

He told Der Spiegel, the German magazine: “I have already managed to attract enough DNA from fossil bones to reconstruct the DNA of the human species largely extinct. Now I need an adventurous female human.”

The professor claims that he could introduce parts of the Neanderthal genome to human stem cells and clone them to create a foetus that could then be implanted in a woman.”

From The Telegraph 

This would be illegal in the UK and many other parts of the world. But is it morally wrong?

Read More »Back to the Future: The Ethics of Cloning Neanderthals and Creating Genetically Modified Animals

Do we want “genetically modified children”? Yes, of course!

The agency that regulates fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has asked for public views on two possible new forms of fertility treatment that promise to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases to children. These diseases can be extremely severe, leading to (among other things) diabetes, deafness, progressive blindness, seizures, dementia, muscular dystrophy, and death.

Read More »Do we want “genetically modified children”? Yes, of course!

Conjoined Twins, Cloning and Artificial Intelligence

Rosie and Ruby Formasa at 12 weeks are two ‘normal, smiling bubbly babies’. But they have already survived major surgery, just one day after their birth.
Conjoined at the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus, the girls shared an intestine. Pregnancy scans in the second trimester had identified that the twins were conjoined, but could not show exactly where until the birth was induced at 34 weeks.

Angela Formasa, the twins’ mother, said “ What they have done for my two girls is amazing. When I was pregnant they were saying that the survival chances were quite low”

The surgery to separate them and replumb their intestines was apparently successfully performed and they have the expectation of a normal life.

Conjoined twins raise difficult ethical dilemmas . They can be joined by a thin sliver of skin, at the abdomen, chest or even brain. They arise because of anomaly of human development.

Read More »Conjoined Twins, Cloning and Artificial Intelligence

A tiny step forward

Researchers have managed to produce live-born mice (original article) descended from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells), cells taken from adult animals and treated to become stem cells. That individuals could be produced from embryonic stem cells was already known, but this proves that the IPS cells can produce all kinds of cells in an adult body. Good news for people uneasy about the need for embryonic stem cells… or is it?

If one argues that it is wrong to use embryonic stem cells because embryos carry moral rights, then the question is whether the creation of IPS cells produce something that also has moral rights.

Read More »A tiny step forward

Re-creating mammoths and the family dog: two different cases

The idea of reproductive cloning can easily be perceived as offensive, as a practice that constitutes the dark side of cloning and should be prohibited under all circumstances, by contrast with therapeutic cloning, the benefits of which are increasingly acknowledged. However, such reactions typically assume that it is human cloning we are talking about. Regardless of how we should assess this latter practice, it seems difficult to make a plausible case for a complete ban on reproductive cloning of nonhuman animals. On the contrary, such a technique appears to open up exciting prospects. A group of Japanese scientists, as recently reported in the press (by the BBC and the Guardian, among other sources) have thus managed to produce clones from dead mice that had been frozen for 16 years. According to the aforesaid scientists, this achievement raises the possibility of re-creating extinct species such as mammoths from their frozen remains – a bit like what happens in Steven Spielberg’s movie Jurassic Park.

Read More »Re-creating mammoths and the family dog: two different cases

Reproductive science: is there something we’re missing?

years after the first test-tube baby, Nature
asks various experts for their views on what the next thirty years of
reproductive medicine will bring
Some of the more startling predictions are:

  • No more infertility, with both children and 100-year-olds able to have children
  • Embryos created from stem cells, increasing the ease of embryo research and genetic engineering of children
  • … with the resulting greater availability of embryos making it easier to create cloned humans
  • Artificial wombs, enabling babies to develop outside the mother’s body
  • … which, some worry, could become compulsory as an alternative to abortion, or to avoid premature birth or fetal alcohol syndrome
  • ‘Genetic cassettes’ implanted in embryos to counteract the effects of inherited diseases
  • Increase in litigation following evidence that IVF babies may later suffer adverse effects from the environment in which they were grown as embryos

Read More »Reproductive science: is there something we’re missing?

Cloning and animal exploitation

The Daily Mail reports this morning that 8 clone-offspring cows have been born in the UK. Also today, the first survey of public opinion on ‘clone farming’ has been released indicating significant unease and opposition to the idea of meat products or milk from cloned sources.

There are strict prohibitions on reproductive cloning for humans in most countries (for example, the recently debated HFEA bill in the UK, and the Human reproductive Cloning Act 2001). However there are few, if any, constraints on the cloning of animals. Is this the start of a new era of animal exploitation?

Read More »Cloning and animal exploitation