Tag Archives: science

We Are … Star Trekkers!

This Thanksgiving break has been all movie time (By the way, Balto was a really nice movie. Thank you Walter). During one boring night, I decided to re-watch Star Trek. Throughout the entire movie, you see spaceships warping (traveling at the speed of light or greater) to various parts of the universe. Inside the command center, you literally behold space beginning to bend and stretch as the ship goes into warp drive. Similarly, beaming is the teleportation of people from one location to another. In one scene, an engineer discovers the equation to beaming people onto moving objects and exclaims, “Of course! I never would have thought of space as a moving force!” Although these space travel concepts are merely theoretical, I believe that they are attainable and will be implemented in the far future. As human technology progresses, we will be able to bend space, time, and the basic laws of nature. A truly formidable power, don’t you agree? “With great power comes great responsibility,” as everyone has heard. I agree that if we are able to achieve such technologies, we could use it for a multitude of beneficial applications. I cannot even begin to list ways we could help nature; just use your imagination. However, powerful things always have possibilities to go horribly wrong. For example, space/time travel could always be dangerous, especially with the “affect something in the past changes everything in the future” type of thing. Small changes that could be made through advancements in human technology could have quite damaging effects on nature and its living organisms. The theme of science and its effects on nature is what I will be exploring further in my paper.

Ethics War

Like Lindsay, our class on chimeras really got me thinking.  This field of genetic experimentation has so much promise… but should the distant goal of miracle cures allow us to do whatever we want with test animals?  Creating a mouse with a functioning, thinking, and feeling human brain would be cruel.  I went on to the nat geo website to learn more about this controversial subject.

In 2005, a mouse with functioning human brain cells was created.  But, only one tenth of one percent of all the mouse’s brain cells were human.  This is not enough to make the mouse have a “human” brain, but it proved that embryonic human stem cells can grow functionally in a foreign environment.  This information is amazing, as it illustrates the amazingly promising versatility of stem cells.  Scientists hope that one day stem cells can be used to cure many degenerative nerve diseases.  In order to prevent ethical debate, they carefully monitor the subject mouse’s brain activity, to make sure that it doesn’t display any “human” brain activity.

But even if a mouse does not have a totally functioning human brain, is it ethical to put even a small amount of human brain cells into a mouse?  Machiavelli would say it is.  But many bioethicists say it is not.  The opposition to this research dubs it “inhumane,” and that it “crosses the natural border.”  Is this overreacting? One researcher states that “A few thousand human brain cells will not turn a house pest into Mickey Mouse.”  Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t.  I honestly haven’t formed a concrete opinion on this issue yet, because both sides have such valid arguments.  Are we impeding the progress of finding miraculous cures to life-threatening human diseases in defense of mice?  Or are we putting innocent creatures through insufferable pain and defying Nature itself?  There are definitely boundaries to how much science should interfere with the life of an animal, but I think this early brain cell testing is ok for the time being.  The mouse is still a mouse with a mouse brain, just with a few human cells thrown into the stew.  Just like Robin Williams with his new bovine-valve heart is still human, the mouse is still a mouse.  The genetic change in its brain hasn’t changed how it lives (as of now).

Mickey mouse hasn’t been created just yet, and hopefully never will be.  There are many laws setting regulations on research such as this, defining just how “human” you can make an animal.  In Canada, it is forbidden to create a human-animal “chimera.”  Are there loopholes in laws such as these though?  At what point does an animal become “too human?”  Everything is very subjective.  I expect even more debate to emerge in the coming years over this controversial issue.  My advice for the scientists: cure the sick and ailing parents of the bioethicists with the results of your stem cell research.  That should quiet them.  My advice for the bioethicists: Keep a careful eye on those scheming scientists, but actually learn about the research being done before you condemn it.  Come off as educated people, not hippie-nazis.