Hello dear followers,

Time for my final blogging session regarding my thesis. I can say it’s been a very exhausting, long 12 weeks yet very fulfilling, filled with great memories and even making new friends (you know who you are) at my thesis. I learned alot past weeks but most of all I hope you guys enjoyed reading (some) of my blogs. Agreed some were a little bit of the edge but that’s basically my personality speaking for me as I’m interested in quirky things. In this final blogging post, I quickly made an small paper with a little bit of insight regarding one of the (most interesting) blogging post(s) regarding cloning I made (it received the most comments).

So without further ado, enjoy the last piece of my writing regarding these topics!

Almost two decades ago, the most famous sheep in modern history was born: Dolly(5th of July, 1997) [1]. Scientists were able to genetically clone Dolly using a single cell from an another adult sheep. However, Dolly raised the public awareness about the possible breakthrough of human cloning which subsequently led to worldwide debates regarding the ethics, the possibilities and the consequences of this matter [2]. Even nowadays, the issue of human cloning and its worldwide acceptance or rejection is still ongoing [2]. Hasty or incorrect decisions could lead to genetic abnormalities and accidents because human cloning is still in its infancy and far from a perfected procedure [2].

The term cloning is used to describe processes involved in making duplicates of biological material [3]. More specifically, human cloning is based on the technique somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which was also used to clone Dolly. During the first phase of  SCNT the nucleus of an egg cell of a female donor is removed from the cell and fused with the nucleus of a somatic cell or body cell from another donor, creating an embryo [1].

Furthermore, human cloning is divided into 2 categories.
First, there are the cloning processes where the created embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother who will then give birth to a clone [1]. This is called ‘reproductive cloning’. On the other hand there is

‘therapeutic cloning’ which is used to describe cloning processes based on embryonic stem cells (ESCs)[1]. ESCs are harvested from the embryo which gets destroyed during the process. The harvested ESCs are then used to differentiate into any tissue or organs to trait various diseases and damaged tissues[1].

My proposal is to keep reproductive cloning banned but to legalize and fund therapeutic cloning worldwide [12].

While reproductive cloning is theoretically possible, the significant amount of resources required for the research, result in a huge practical barrier [4]. For example, with mice, scientists have thousands of eggs to work with for conducting experiments [4]. Primates on the other hand, have a much lower pool of resources, making their eggs more precious and harder to gather. The lower pool of resources combined with the extremely inefficient procedure of SCNT would make reproductive cloning unethical to spend research on [5]. For example, Dolly was cloned successfully but only after 277 tries. The success rate hovers around 1-5 % which is extremely low. This way, it would be unethical to try hundreds of times before getting a healthy living human clone. Fetuses could possibly die during gestation or shortly after birth. Furthermore, even if successful, a lot of cloned babies would suffer from genetic abnormalities and defect organ problems, shortening their lives drastically [1]. Combining these possible issues render it unethical to conduct research for reproductive cloning and make up the main reason why it will never get legalized in the near future.

Even if we somehow could optimize the procedure for reproductive cloning to 100% efficiency, there are still some ethical questions that can be raised. Clones could be created to help infertile parents who desire a child using their own DNA. However, no one can predict what the relationship between the parents and their cloned child will be. The parents would have to raise a delayed copy of one of themselves which may lead to emotional difficulties [6].

Furthermore, clones could be treated as ‘second class’ citizens with the sole purpose of being organ donors or, in an even more futuristic view, be created to make armies or workers [7]. They might not receive the same rights and might get frowned upon, undermining the basic equal rights of human beings. While it’s unlikely that anyone would approve of such practices to begin with, history has proven many times it’s a possibility.

From an evolutionary point of view, reproductive cloning would impair the natural selection process, reducing the amount of genetic variation within the human species (due to clones having the same genetic information) [8]. This could have a negative impact in the long run. Just because a specific genotype is beneficial at the current time, does not mean it will be the most beneficial genotype 50 years from now [8].

However, there does exist a future for human cloning in my opinion and it lies with therapeutic cloning. The biggest advantage of therapeutic cloning is that the ESCs are pluripotent. Pluripotent stem cells, as mentioned above, have the ability to differentiate into almost any type of cell or tissue. Furthermore, they can be grown more easily in laboratories in contrast to multipotent cells such as the adult stem cells (ASCs) which as the name suggest reside and can be harvested from the adult human body [10]. These multipotent ASCs also have the ability to differentiate but they are far more restricted in their differentiation variation and can only differentiate into cells where they originate from [9].

Research regarding ASCs has shown promising results and is a hot topic because of the ethical issues regarding ESCs, yet their potential is still less significant in comparison to ESCs as a renewable source of healthy cells to treat diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s or any other organ defect for that matter, making therapeutic cloning the more interesting choice for regenerative medicine [11].

A quick example supporting and illustrating therapeutic cloning would be to use your own skin cells to create ESCs which then could be used to create a new organ to replace the defect organ.

The problem for therapeutic cloning however is the fact that embryos are destroyed during the harvesting process of  ESCs, creating a lot of controversy about the morality concerning this technique with all sorts of different responses. For example, Belgium has allowed therapeutic cloning for medical purposes, yet a lot of countries, such as Germany, France, Brazil and India to name a few, have banned all sorts of human cloning including therapeutic cloning [13].

The biggest question regarding this issue is ‘When does human life actually start?’ The truth is no one knows the exact answer to this question and opinions concerning this matter vary widely across the globe [2].

The most conservative position claims that human life begins at conception because it has the potential to fully develop into a full-grown human, thus violating the rights of the embryo would be immoral [12].

Another popular belief is that life begins at birth, taking away the moral rights and legal protection embryos have. Yet the fact remains we simply don’t know the correct answer[2].

However, if we take the abortion or the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) technique into account, a lot of countries such as Germany, France and India are far more tolerant regarding destroying embryos [14].

IVF is generally considered even less controversial than abortion while there are more embryos destroyed per attempt for IVF than per abortion [15].

One could reason that it is less unethical to destroy an embryo before it is implanted in the womb (IVF versus abortion). Another argument why IVF is seen as less controversial is that the primary purpose of IVF is to create new life, meaning that some people are more willing to tolerate the destruction of embryos [15].

If I compare these generally more accepted techniques and the concept behind the use of embryos with therapeutic cloning, I say: what’s the difference? Therapeutic cloning also destroys embryos but it can also save a lot of lives.

I don’t see any justification for our discriminatory attitude towards therapeutic cloning. The embryos used in therapeutic cloning should receive just as much or as little protection as the embryos used in IVF or the embryos destroyed in abortion [15]. If we prohibit therapeutic cloning, should we prohibit IVF and abortion as well? Probably not since IVF for example is seen as a miracle cure for infertile couples [15].

Thus, to end this argument, if IVF and abortion techniques continue to exist, legalize therapeutic cloning as well and make their benefits public worldwide [15].

There are also arguments to state that the embryo before a certain stage should not have the moral status of a person [12]. When ESCs are harvested from the embryo, the embryo is only a few days old and literally a mass of clumped up cells [12]. It would be difficult to establish if the embryo, though clearly alive, is actually a person [12]. Moreover, the definition of personhood embodies uniqueness which an embryo at this stage clearly does not fulfill.

The exact description of personhood is worth another discussion and beyond the scope of this statement. But as long as there is controversy about whether an embryo is a human being, most would intuitively agree that the embryo at this stage is definitely not a person [12].

To summarize and end this statement, we can all agree that the issue of human cloning is complicated and complex with all sorts of different opinions regarding the matter. While almost everyone agrees reproductive cloning should remain banned for various reasons, therapeutic cloning has a bigger variation in beliefs.

Personally, I support therapeutic cloning as I believe it has a lot of potential to enhance the quality of human life.

Therapeutic cloning can prolong human lives by replacing damaged organs and tissue or cure diseases. The opposing side of therapeutic cloning claims destroying embryos for ESCs is immoral. However, I claim it is just as unethical to destroy embryos in techniques such as IVF or abortion, yet these techniques are generally more accepted. My point of view in this statement is not to discuss whether destroying embryos is immoral, but to equalize all these techniques on the same level. If IVF and abortion are legally recognized why shouldn’t therapeutic cloning be legalized as well?

References

[1] Bonsor K., Conger C.. 2006. How Human Cloning Will Work. [ONLINE] Available at:http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/genetic/human-cloning1.htm. [Accessed 11 April 15].
[2] Haas B.. 2004. My research paper: ban human cloning. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.defensorveritatis.net/?p=314. [Accessed 11 April 15]

[3] Hanna K.. 2006. Cloning/Embryonic Stem Cells. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.genome.gov/10004765. [Accessed 11 April 15].

[4] Rettner R.. 2013. Could Humans Be Cloned?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.livescience.com/32083-cloning-people-biology.html. [Accessed 11 April 15].

[5] Human Cloning. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-science/genetics-molecular-medicine/related-policy-topics/stem-cell-research/human-cloning.page?.
[Accessed 11 April 15]

[6] Robinson B.. 2004. Reproductive cloning a.k.a cell nuclear replacement. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.religioustolerance.org/clo_intra.htm. [Accessed 12 April 15].

[7] Farnsworth J.. 2000. To Clone or not to Clone: The Ethical Question . [ONLINE] Available at:http://thefarnsworths.com/science/cloning.htm. [Accessed 12 April 15]

[8] Fleming J.. 2014. Blog Post 1:Dolly & Eugenics. [ONLINE] Available at:https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/philosophy316/tag/natural-selection/. [Accessed 12 April 15]

[9] Pironet A., Verhelst D. Suetens N. From bench to bedside translation of cardiac progenitor cells in myocardial repair.

[10] Murnaghan I.. 2015. Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/adultvsembryonicstemcells.html. [Accessed 12 April 15]

[11] Cyranoski D.. 2013. Human stem cells created by cloning. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.nature.com/news/human-stem-cells-created-by-cloning-1.12983. [Accessed 13 April 15]

[12] Liu S.. 2007. The Ethics of Therapeutic Cloning. [ONLINE] Available at:https://web.duke.edu/eruditio/SallyLiu.html. [Accessed 13 April 15]

[13] Wheat K., Matthews K.. World Human Cloning Policies. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~neal/stemcell/World.pdf. [Accessed 13 April 15]

[14] 2015. The world’s abortion laws 2015. [ONLINE] Available at:http://worldabortionlaws.com/.

[Accessed 13 April 15].

[15] McGuire M.J.. 2013. Stem Cell Research, Therapeutic Cloning, and the Ethics of Embryo Destruction. [ONLINE] Available at: http://philinst.snu.ac.kr/thought/18/18_stem.pdf. [Accessed 13 April 15]

The McLaboBurger?

Hello guys and girls,

For my last blog, I will change the topic to something more light hearted and more of a “fun fact” post. I was talking to one of my colleague workers at my internship asking for a “fun” non-internship related topic but ofcourse within the boundaries of biochemistry and biology. He came up with (in my opinion) quite interesting topic: Cultured meat in petridishes. Basically this means we can grow burgers and meat in the lab. Yes, I know the idea sounds a little bit distasteful but in the article they explain the petridish burger compares pretty good to a normal “burger”. It only needed some extra seasoning. The reason behind this research is the upcoming shortage of beef and meat in general for the always increasing population of mankind. So this would decrease the need for cattle but also lower greenhouse gas emmissions. The only downside at the moment is the cost. I think I read somewhere this one burger costed around 300 000 dollar to make, while still optimizing the protocol and the price will sure drop per burger, it still might be extremely expensive to make one. So what do you guys think? Could this be the solution for vegetariens and cattle? Anyways, Bon Appetit!

70099.adapt.676.1

link: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2013/08/05/cultured-beef-a-380000-burger-grown-in-petri-dishes/
Credits go to: Wouter Geers

Pocket Microscopes?

Hello followers,

Today I want to vent my opinion about something I find truly ridiculous. This blog will be more of a rant actually than anything but sometimes that’s what you have got to do.
Today I came across an article which made me a little furious inside and generally the way the world is going (help, am I getting old?). Today I read (I will give the link below), with a little tweaking you can convert your cell phone into a microscope. Ofcourse not as detailed and specific as microscopes used in labs (I have to use all sorts of microscopes in the lab) but still you can convert them to microscopes. So you might ask what’s so infuriating about that? Crafty tool right? Actually in my opinion: NO. Who and even more WHY would you use such a thing? Why is everything getting commercialized for everyone and we just make apps and things for our cell phone to let it be something its CLEARLY NOT. It’s a cell _PHONE_, that’s it primary function! I can’t even imagine one setting in which it could come in handy to have a pocket microscope. Things under a microscope should be looked at in a professional setting (for medicine and science anyways). Are people going to far with their (useless) inventions or am I just getting old, I’ll let you decide.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/business/08novel.html?_r=0

Underwater fireworks!

Hello Followers,

Time for a new blog so without further ado, I want to talk about something different than last couple of weeks. As you might have noticed, last few weeks I’ve been talking alot about concepts to increase our health or even seek eternal life. This week I want to take you guys back to one of the core concepts of my internship: fluorescence and in general bioluminescence. In a modern world where science is getting visualized by fluorescent proteins for tracking (bio)molecules-dynamics and labeling you might wonder where these fluorescent molecules come from? Do we just invent them from scratch or are they harvested from for example: fireflies?

The actual answer lies in the sea and that’s what I want to inform you guys about this week. Did you know 80 to 90% of all underwater life display forms of bioluminescence? Scientifically speaking the most famous bioluminescent organism is probably the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. This jellyfish generated the foundation for the (well-known) fluorescent protein GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein (catchy name right?)) which even won the noble prize for 2008.

Besides using these shiny molecules for science, the underwater organisms use these forms of bioluminesence for communicating, getting attention or scaring/defending themselves and this gives just beautiful footage underwater for the human eye prooving that our world can be a breathtaking place. Just take a look at the following TED talk and see for yourself how beautiful nature can actually be.

Sleeping beauty

Hello everyone,

In this week’s blog I want to put my focus on something everyone probably heard and thought about: Cryogenic sleeping or less scientificly said: Freezing someone for X-amount of time, only to wake up in another new society, years from now with hopefully new medical breakthroughs and treatments.
(Fair and square, the credits for this week’s topic won’t go to me but to one of my readers which gave me the idea (you know who you are😉 ).

While searching google and some more scientifc related websites I came across the story of Kim Suozzi, a 23 year-old student with a highly aggresive form of  terminal brain cancer. She made a post about it on Reddit and comments followed quickly, supporting her every needs for the time remaining. One of the comments though, got her interested in cryogenic preservation. With nothing to lose and the financial help from reddit, she got the costs she needed to cover the expenses and let herself be incased by ice after she clinically passed away.

Link to the article: http://venturist.info/kim-suozzi-charity.html

All in all, would you even consider this, if finances wouldn’t be an issue? Will science be able to “revive” these patients and cure them from their diseases in the future or do you think this plan is foolish and wasted money and research?

If you have an opinion about this, feel free to comment below!

See you next week!

The (in)finite battle: Humans vs Bacteria

Hello Everyone,

This week, I want to discuss a topic with you guys that should be discussed far more on a global scale as this subject is of very pressing nature towards society and human healthcare (in Dutch we would say: het is vijf voor twaalf!).

To begin my story, I was doing some regular labwork in which I have to work with antibiotics (they are used as selection markers for cloning target DNA) and last week I had a little bit of discussion about antibiotics with a friend of mine who works in the (clinical) medicine world specialized in bacterial and virus analyses. Basically his message and the message I want to emphasize this week is: the battle between antibiotics and bacteria is a ticking timebomb with a much shorter fuse than we all think.
Today we use antibiotics for everything. Time is money meaning we have to be fast and efficient in everything, why not for curing diseases, right? If we have a cold, people get antibiotics, if we have a seasonal influenza (flu), just get a prescription from the nearest doctor and get your antibiotics. While this is indeed efficient and fast, we are in fact destroying our own arms versus bacteria because we use them for everything and bacteria are “learning” how to beat our arms. The phenomenon, natural selection is making bacteria more resistant to our antibiotics such as penicillin and its different forms every day.
Ofcourse we are developping and inventing new antibiotics as we speak however the resources are not infinite. We (people in general) but certainly also doctors should really be more careful about what treatments we use and opt for alternatives if available (do you know any?), else bacteria will take the upper hand on us, sooner than you think!
I strongly advice you to take a look at the video below in which this man explains the gravity of this problem!

To end this blog, here’s a nice quote and analogy from the video below: “We are playing a game, a game called co-evolution, and co-evolution in this case can be compared with the co-evolution of cheetahs and gazelles. Cheetahs have been evolving to run faster because else they wouldn’t get any lunch, gazelles have also been evolving to run faster because else they would be lunch. So this is the game we are playing against bacteria, however we are the gazelles.”

Dries Verhelst’s Pliocenic Park?

Hello everyone,

Continuing on the last blog and within the context of cloning I want to discuss an article I found recently surfing the internet, looking for some interesting topics. Based on my previous blog, we established that most (all?) of us are against reproductive cloning but what about cloning animals and more in particular extinct animals?
Following article describes the discovery of an almost intact wooly mammoth carcass in Siberia (May 2013),preserved in the permafrost.

_SA14022

The obvious goal of this discovery is to examine the female matriach (named Buttercup) further and discover some more details about it however scientists are also trying to recreate its genome and reproduce the whole animal.
Based on this article do you think this is a good idea, reproducing extinct animals and walk among for example mammoths once more? Maybe we can give some extinct animals a new chance to exist and “rebalance” the fauna or should history remain history and movies like Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (yes I admit it sounds better than Pliocenic Park*) fiction?

article: http://www.livescience.com/48769-woolly-mammoth-cloning.html

*Pliocenic Park: Mammoths lived from the Pliocene Epoch (from around 5 million years ago) into the Holocene at about 4,500 years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. (based on Wikipedia)