Scientists in the UK report that they have created an embryo using the transfer of human nuclear DNA from an embryonic human cell into the oocyte of a cow that has had the nucleus removed. These embryos are the “hybrids” or “cybrids” that we’ve been discussing for the last few years.
From the Guardian:
Apparently these researchers have achieved some success – but by using the nucleus from a very early embryonic cell, which might be easier to reprogramme than an adult cell. At the moment it is impossible to assess the significance of this report until we know more details of what has been achieved … the results have been repeated and, importantly, they have been reviewed by independent researchers in the usual way.”
Josephine Quintavalle, of the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the research should not worry those opposed to hybrid embryos because the Newcastle work did not seem convincing. “The embryos didn’t survive, they were created from embryonic stem cells rather than adult tissue, and there’s a lot of question marks over the research.”
But she added: “What it has done is wake up the public to this reality, that while parliament is getting in a tizz about this, while the whole country is up in arms discussing it, the HFEA is already issuing licences.”
Supposedly, if the technique is perfected to allow the embryos to survive longer, these embryos will allow the study of the early embryo and production of embryonic stem cells in order to learn more about and find cures for diseases like diabetes and Parkinson’s.
However, even if the embryos are disorganized and fail early, or if they are destroyed at day 5 or 6 or whenever, the ethical determination as to whether they are “human” or “bovine” has not been cleared up. We won’t know what they are until several labs and several trials successfully create these embryos.
If the embryos appear to divide in an organized manner, producing human proteins and the differentiation necessary to create human embryonic stem cells, then they are essentially human embryos. This is a case of the old if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc., logic.
Since the stated intention is to destroy the embryo, and we don’t know whether they are human or not, those of us who find the killing of humans, even at the earliest stages will also hold that it is inherently unethical to even begin the process.
A discussion about the discussions about the announcement can be read at one of Nature.com’s blogs, “The Great Beyond.”
From the thread, “UK hybrid embryo: in perspective – April 02, 2008,”
New Scientist has attacked the group for announcing the achievement through the media rather than through a scientific publication. The Independent focuses on the ethical debate. Not many organisations outside the UK gave it any coverage at all, and those that did may have been under the impression that it was a world first, not mentioning previous achievements in the field (eg. Life Scientist, Australia).