Stem Cells

"Voice" your opinions about genetic technology

Hsien-Hsien Lei of the Eye on DNA blog recently asked readers to define genetics in one simple sentence. I tried, with the following:

Genetics is the study of the operating instructions for life.

To this could be added: Scientists look at how the instructions are passed from one generation to the next, how instructions differ from one living thing to another, and how the instructions work.

For a "young" audience, something modern--operating instructions--could be useful. Note that the second sentence distinguishes the various components of genetic study: inheritance, form, function.

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Welcome to the geneforum blog!

Wow, have I been out of touch lately! A few weeks ago, when I returned to Oregon after selling my home in Utah, I logged in and promised to start posting blogs again.

Didn't make it. So, let's try again.

My personal news is that the Godfrey genetic pool has been increased by one beautiful baby boy, born to first-time parents. He doesn't look like any family member in particular, but does have a couple of features we suspect are genetically determined.

Now that I have access more often to a computer, I will be trying to post more regularly.

Here are some subjects I'm finding of personal interest at the moment. Let me know how these fit with your interests.

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ELSI: Ethical, legal, and social issues of genomics

Just returned from a conference in Cleveland, Ohio, dealing with the many different aspects and potential effects of sequencing the human genome. I'll write in the next couple of days about items that particularly interested me.

But first, what is genomics?

I hate to admit it, but when I first joined a group at the Utah Department of Health to discuss genomics, I had no idea what it was. Surprising to me was the fact that others gave me quick definitions, but they varied considerably. So, here's some of the ones you might consider:

Wikipedia: Genomics is the study of an organism's entire genome. The field includes intensive efforts to determine the entire DNA sequence of organisms and fine-scale genetic mapping efforts. The field also includes studies of intragenomic phenomena such as heterosis, epistasis, pleiotropy and other interactions between loci and alleles within the genome. In contrast, the investigation of single genes, their functions and roles, something very common in today's medical and biological research, and a primary focus of molecular biology, does not fall into the definition of genomics, unless the aim of this genetic, pathway, and functional information analysis is to elucidate its effect on, place in, and response to the entire genome's networks.

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How to find specific blog entries

Because our organization is currently operating on no outside fundiing, we've chosen to keep our website simple. One loss, as far as I'm concerned, is the inability to search for specific blog entries using key words. I'm sorry that is the case. A search engine that is not flexible enough to find what you are looking for is worse, we believe, than nothing.

So, here's what you do if you are interested in a particular topic: click on the linkis at the left, by subject. There was only one entry in bioweapons--the blogger quit almost immediately, so that's not on the list. However, the other general topics are. They look really weird, you say. That's true, but for some programming reason I do not understand, such topic lists look weird on a number of sites--including those written by professionals who really know their html, etc.

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Newest stem cell developments

I learned about the newest stem cell advance--converting human skin cells into stem cells--the day before the news was released. I didn't write about it as the news was breaking because I needed time to digest what the newspapers and online news sources were saying. So, now I'm ready.

I'm pleased to see that almost all articles inserted at least one note of caution about how long it will be before the discovery could translate into treatments for human conditions. Typically, however, the caution appeared in the "weakest" position in the articles, at the end of the carryover to an inner page. This, of course, is the place readers rarely reach.

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Stem cells from primates

I just put my new Oregon license plates on my car and am proud to identify myself as an oregoniutahn (probably sounds like some commercial you've seen lately). Today's Oregonian included more on its front page about Shoukhrat Mitalipov's ability to cconvert monkey skin cells into heart, nerve and other adult cells. Before this, no one had been able to get the right combination of techniques and chemicals to complete the process. The journal Nature published a study detailing the breakthrough.

According to the Oregonian, "Mitalipov and his colleagues had cloned cells scraped from a monkey's skin, transforming them into embryonic stem cells by incubating their DNA inside an egg cell. Researchers "turned the resulting line of stem cells into heart cells, nerve cells and other adult cells."

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Old friend quoted in Kansas City news article

Jason Gertzen, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, recently included quotes from Insoo Hyun in a column on stem cells. Insoo has provided material for geneforum from time to time, and I was happy to see his name in press again. Hyun is still at Case Western Reserve University and is an active participant in the International Society for Stem Cell Research. As a bioethicist, he has written about some of the difficulties of doing embryonic stem cell research, including the problems of acquiring donor eggs.

The article references work by a group at Harvard, following efforts to obtain embryonic stem cells without taking them from a developing blastocyst:

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Stem-cell issue more about politics than science

Normally, I expect a very conservative viewpoint from the Deseret News, one of Utah's church-owned newspapers. That's why I was surprised to see a liberal op-ed piece yesterday. Even more interesting, it came from Ellen Goodman in Boston--another conservative place. Perhaps minds are opening in the US. Here's what Ellen had to say:

“By now you may be forgiven for suspecting that science is tinted — if not entirely tainted — by politics. The arguments over evolution and global warming alone are enough to make anyone believe that we have red and blue science as well as red and blue states.

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Marketing Genomics: How to convert one who does not want to be converted

Recently, I have been engaged in one of the best academic experiences I have had in my many years of formal education as well as many professional conferences. It was at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Summer Institute. One of the courses that I have been taking is Genomics. We have had many knowledgeable experts with great communicating skills as well as well informed multi-disciplined student participants.

After one of our sessions I enetered in a conversation about stem cell research with someone that strongly opposes the entire issue of stem cell research based on his religious belief that scientists are entering in the realm of things that are really God's business. I was stopped for a minute, but not entirely surprised because we have had discussions about similiar issues and his response was usually very closed end and not allowing for a dialogue.

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US Senate passes stem cell bill

The Senate has once again passed a stem cell bill whose primary function is to allow federal funding of stem cell lines created after August, 2001. The ban was placed by President Bush and has been upheld since then, limiting federally-funded embryonic stem cell research to approximately 24 or fewer stem cell lines.

President Bush is expected to veto the bill.

I recently found a 2005 edition of National Geographic in which the subject of stem cell research was thoroughly discussed--with the usual excellent photographs. I think what surprised me most was that only one item dated the article: Hwang's announcement of producing a stem cell line from adult cells by nuclear transfer had not been made or declared completely false. Other than that, not much seemed to be new.

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