Tag Archives: growing human body parts

Genetically Engineering New Forms of Life

Want to know how to alter DNA to genetically engineer new forms of life?  Sounds like a new take on what we did in my thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, but it’s actually Newsweek’s cover story. http://www.newsweek.com/2017/07/07/natural-selection-new-forms-life-scientists-altering-dna-629771.html   

Author of the Newsweek article is Bryan Walsh. (Believe in giving credit where credit’s due, and writing this deserves credit!)

Right now I’ve got to run to an appointment; hopefully I’ll be back to make some points. But at least wanted to get this off to you to peruse over the weekend.

And if you time for even more perusing, please do check out my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.  http://michaelmcgaulley.net/books/sample-remedy/

Have a heart? Don’t let it break. Now they can recycle it!

I came on an intriguing article in MIT Technology Review, “Transplant surgeons revive hearts after death.”

These days, we’re familiar with heart transplants from brain-dead patients into others needing a new, healthy heart.

But in a new experimental breakthrough, successes have been achieved in transplanting the hearts of those not brain dead. Yes, there are procedural and ethical issues involved.

Mind you, this involves actual human hearts, not 3-D printed replacements, or bits of heart tissue grown in labs from human stem cells.

But the possibility raises some issues of medical ethics to be explored: if the donor is not brain dead, when and by what criteria can the heart be removed?

Rather than dig in deeply here, I’ll refer you to the article itself. You’ll see a “reanimated” donated heart actually beating outside the bodies of both donor and recipient.  Here’s the link.

A REMEDY FOR DEATH, Human-Chimp Hybrids,  Chimeras, “Chimphumans”, and “Humanzeees”

Plot spoiler warning:  One plot-line in my scientific techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, touches upon the sensitive possibility of creating hybrids combining human and chimp cells and characteristics. But my post here won’t spoil the story, I promise. (Even though, by the way, a “Chimp Donnie appears in some of the scenes.)

But now, in the “real world”, not the world of sci-fi–  Wait! Stop the presses! These days maybe there is scant to little difference between “real” science and “science fictionalizing” what is perhaps just round the corner—for good or bad.

Sorry for the interruption. As I was saying,  David Barash, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington, explores some broader implications—and ethical dilemmas—in an article, “It’s Time to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids” in the magazine NAUTILUS.  http://nautil.us/issue/58/self/its-time-to-make-human_chimp-hybrids

Definitely worth reading, whether or not you come to agree with all of his in-favor arguments.

Usefully, early in the article, he clarifies the distinction hybrids and chimeras: “It is unclear whether my own imagined chimphuman will be a hybrid (produced by cross-fertilizing human and non-human gametes), or a chimera, created in a laboratory via techniques of genetic manipulation.”

He uses both “chimphuman” and “humanzee,” by the way.

(In fairness, I’d point out –possible plot-spoiler—that the method developed and being tested by Dr. Doug Daulby, lead character in A REMEDY FOR DEATH, suggests a third way of fusing humans and chimps. And hence brings its own unique ethical and legal issues.)

By the way, this concept of combining different sorts of animals—including even humans with animals—is not really so new, after all. It’s been done with race horses and various farm animals for years. But did you know that nearly a century ago the Russian biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was working on creating animal hybrids, including “zeedonks” (from combined zebras and donkeys)?

And there’s more! In the late 1920’s, with the support of Stalin, he experimented with injecting human sperm into female chimps, and then the reverse! Apparently nothing came of it.

Enough said here. The link to Dr. Barash’s article in NAUTILUS is above. And let me give a plug for NAUTILUS magazine as well, in which I first came on via this article.  Terms itself “a different kind of science magazine,” and does seem to be precisely that. Fascinating articles, and welcomes new subscribers, in print or e-edition.  The link is http://nautil.us/  (note the exact spelling.)

Just to give a sense of the savvy: this pic below is used to accompany the Barash article in NAUTILUS  Look closely! That one spooky pic conveys so much.

 

There’s another article, by John Ellis, commenting on the Barash piece in PJ MEDIA  https://pjmedia.com/faith/push-make-human-chimp-hybrids/  The title, “The Push to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids”, correctly suggests that he is less enthusiastic about the possibility.

Sample sentences from that article: “Ultimately, what Barash is after is the erasure of the uniqueness of human personhood. His argument for the making of a human-chimp hybrid is built on his rejection of any real distinctions between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom.”

Professor Barash’s article was adapted from his upcoming book THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: USING SCIENCE TO SEE OUR SPECIES AS IT REALLY IS.  Coming, summer 2018, Oxford University Press.

And after passing on all these plugs, time for a plug of my own for A REMEDY FOR DEATH. (Available in both p-book and e-book editions at the usual book-sellers, including Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/REMEDY-DEATH-Playing-body-biotech-ebook/dp/B00946XVKW/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1521574977&sr=1-3&keywords=mcgaulley

(Sorry for long link; can’t get the system to work right.)

My blog–in case you arrived here by other means– is www.MichaelMcGaulley.net )

 

Japan: “Scientists develop pigs for transplants”

Plot spoiler warning:  Not needed here, as the method in my science techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, takes a very different approach to human-life extension (or “life-renewal”) than mentioned in what’s to come.

“Xenotransplantation” (an experimental technology which we do not  use in A Remedy for Death) involves transplanting animal cells or even whole organs into humans to replace what isn’t working. According to this article in more than 200 pig to human xenotransplantations been performed in Russia, New Zealand and other countries. Not in Japan yet, and not clear on the United States.

To clarify, in most of those experiments the organs (or stem cells, etc.) have earlier been implanted in the carrier animal, so what comes across is –for example–a liver grown in the animal, but a liver made from human cells.

We have in fact  covered multiple related issues in this blog, among them those you’ll see at the bottom of this page. (At the moment I’m having trouble inserting links here  today–so much for the limitations of technology!)

In any case, this new article  ( http://www.the-japan-news.com/news/article/0004283766 ) refers to work on growing special pigs for the specific purpose of serving as bearers for growing organs for transplantation to humans, using especially clean environments (even as the fetuses are removed from the uterus of a mother pig), and special checking for viruses that might be carried harmlessly in the small pig but be dangerous to humans.

Synthetic human embryos from human stem cells? Ethical issues on the horizon!

That’s where it all begins . . .  human life, that is. What you see is a scan of the surface of a human embryonic stem cell.  (Photo credit to David Scharf and Science Source. )

An article by Carl Zimmer  in the NY Times this week raised the prospect that science is on the threshold of creating “synthetic human entities with embryolike features”.  (“Sheefs” in their acronym.)

Hold it right there!  Just what IS a “synthetic human entity with embryolike features”?

“Soon, experts predict, they will learn how to engineer these cells into new kinds of tissues and organs. Eventually, they may take on features of a mature human being.” (Quote from the Times article, my emphasis added.)

“Features of a mature human being”  –– Hmm, and what does that mean?  Does that ( in the not-so far distant future) mean man-made creatures walking around, looking like us, but with “parents” were petri dishes in a lab?

I don’t speak directly of Sheefs or stem cells in my science techno-thriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH, but the problem REMEDY raises is much the same as in the quote–taking on “features of a mature human being”.  (For the record, neither did Michael Crichton in JURASSIC PARK get into this issue of stem cells in bringing about his dinosaurs.)  But something like that had to have been done in both JURASSIC and REMEDY to reach the outcomes.

But REMEDY and JURASSIC PARK  are just science fiction. But the “fiction” is quickly fading as reality pushes up against the “what-if.”  As Paul Knoepfler, a biologist at University of California, Davis, put it, speaking of this and other  related research at the University of Cambridge: “They’ve opened the door to a lot of tough questions.”

Which echoes a warning from the fictional Kate Remington, Ph.D.  in A REMEDY FOR DEATH: “You’re opening very dangerous doorways! Once they’re open, there’s no stopping what may come through from the other side of that doorway!”