Go-ahead for hybrid human-animal embryos

LYNDSAY MOSS – HEALTH CORRESPONDENT
(lmoss@scotsman.com)

THE government yesterday bowed to pressure from scientists to allow the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos for stem-cell research.

A white paper published last year proposed banning the use of hybrid embryos amid fierce opposition to the research from pro-life groups. But yesterday, the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill reopened the door for such research, which scientists claim is essential if they are to find treatments for serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The bill allows scientists to create “cytoplasmic” hybrid embryos, which are 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent animal, such as cow or rabbit. The legislation also goes further, in that it allows human embryos to be altered by the introduction of animal DNA.

It is hoped that the hybrid embryos – also referred to as chimeras – could help tackle the shortage of human eggs available for research.

Caroline Flint, the public health minister in Westminster, denied the government had staged a climbdown on the hybrid issue. She said that the white paper had always left the door open for specific research on a case-by-case basis.

True hybrids – creatures created by the fusion of sperm and eggs – remain outlawed. In all cases, it remains illegal to allow hybrid embryos to grow for more than 14 days or for them to be implanted in a womb. This period allows enough time for scientists to harvest stem cells for their work.

The consultation on the white paper was criticised for allegedly being hijacked by members of the pro-life lobby, who are opposed to such research.

Ms Flint said scientists had since come forward to make their reasons for needing to use hybrid embryos much clearer.

While some grey areas remain, scientists welcomed the U-turn in the bill, which will now face parliamentary scrutiny.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research, said: “I am very pleased the draft bill proposes research involving mixtures of animal and human material. This research has many potential benefits for the understanding of disease and for treatments, and it should not be feared.”

Professor Chris Shaw, from Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s School of Medicine in London, who wants to study motor neurone disease using stem cells, welcomed the decision, but added: “We reserve final judgment until it becomes law.”

However, Dr David King, the director of the campaign group Human Genetics Alert, which is strongly opposed to hybrid research, said: “Do not be fooled by the claim this is just research. “Once we start down the path to GM babies, it will become very hard to turn back.”

Q & A: ANIMAL-HUMAN HYBRIDS

What is a hybrid animal-human embryo?

Scientists take DNA from human cells and place it in animal eggs which have had most of their genetic material removed. Embryos grown from the eggs are more than 99 per cent human, with only a tiny animal component. Once the embryos have been grown in the lab – for no longer than 14 days – scientists can harvest stem cells for research.

Why do we need to use animal eggs anyway?

Ideally, scientists would collect stem cells from human eggs, but there is a severe shortage of such eggs, holding up research with the potential to help millions with serious diseases. Hybrid research allows scientists to use eggs from animals such as rabbits and cows, which are in plentiful supply.

Experts also believe that it is easier to collect stem cells from hybrid embryos.

Why will such research be useful?

Stem cells harvested from the hybrid embryos are a valuable resource, as they are the body’s master cells, with the ability to develop into different tissue types.

Which conditions could be helped through hybrid embryo research?

Stem cell research could be helpful in finding treatments for a wide range of conditions, including serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease. Some also hope healthy stem cells could be implanted in humans to replace faulty cells and cure their illness.

Who is hoping to carry out research with hybrid embryos?

Two teams of British scientists, from London and Newcastle, have already sought permission to create animal-human hybrids for research. Professor Ian Wilmut, of Edinburgh University, had also been preparing his application for chimera research.

Why is hybrid research so controversial?

Some campaigners have questioned whether it is ethical to mix human and animal material.

Pro-life campaigners have opposed stem cell research because embryos are destroyed when the cells are harvested.

Related topic
Cloning & stem cell research
http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=10

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=771592007

Welcome To The New Police State

By Dick Allgire

In the old days in The United States of America, a journalist didn’t have to get permission to conduct an interview in a public place. But this is a new America, a place where armed security agents watch your every move and require their permission to exercise what used to be a first amendment right.

I’ve been a television news reporter for 33 years. I first began covering news when Richard Nixon was about to resign. I’ve gone to airports many times to film-yes we used to use film- and lately to video-tape and interview famous and infamous people getting on and getting off airplanes. I’ve been around a while and I’ve covered a lot of stories at airports. Things have changed.

I want to tell you what happened to me today (May 17, 2007) at Honolulu International Airport. I was assigned to meet and interview Nainoa Thompson, navigator of the Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hokule’a. He and his crew were departing for Japan to sail their Hawaiian canoe on the final leg of an historic voyage. It was arranged for our crew to meet them on the sidewalk outside the check-in area. All I needed was a quick couple of sound bites with Nainoa and two of the young crew members who were leaving to fulfill a cultural mission of goodwill and Aloha.

I arrived with a news photographer at the Honolulu Airport and we paid to park in the parking garage. We walked to the public sidewalk in front of the check-in area where we met Nainoa and the young crewmembers. We turned on the camera and began talking with them.

This is something I have done at least a hundred times over the past 33 years. In the USA a reporter used to be able to go to any public place and interview someone without being rousted by authorities. This was not a restricted area. We did not attempt to board an airplane, or walk past the security gate, or get out on to a runway. We were not taping near any TSA checkpoint. We were out on the sidewalk at a public facility.

While I was interviewing an 18-year old Hawaiian, asking how he felt about taking a voyage on a Hawaiian canoe several uniformed security agents walked up and stopped the interview. They insisted that we cease videotaping. They demanded to know what we were doing, who authorized us to be there, and whether we had permission.

EXCUSE ME???

In the United States of America that I grew up in a reporter was allowed to interview anyone in any public place, about anything, at any time, without requesting or having to be granted permission by unformed goons. Pardon me- I mean low wage security guards.

I snapped, and perhaps I should apologize to these poor rent-a-cops. I did not say it to their faces, but as I turned to go to the airport security office I did mutter an obscenity: “This is the f&#^ing United States. You don’t need permission to do an interview in a public place. This is not supposed to be a goddamned fascist state!”

They heard me. Now I was asking for trouble. They called for backups. Several more armed security guards surrounded my cameraman. He told them, “It’s not big deal; we’re just trying to interview some people about sailing on the Hokule’a.”

I went to the security office and got “permission” from airport authorities to do something that is supposed to be guaranteed under our (former) Constitution.

It saddens me to see America slipping into a state that allows armed security guards to demand “authorization” for something that used to be taken for granted. I never before had to get “permission” from “authorities” to talk to someone in a public place. I brought this up in the security office when they were so graciously “granting” me permission to resume my interview. A security guard in front of a bank of television surveillance monitors told me, “Things are different after 911.”

I wonder- what does a well known television reporter interviewing young Hawaiian kids in a public place about sailing on a canoe have to do with 911? How is this a threat? And the saddest thing for me is this- young people growing up today will simply submit. They won’t even remember a time when a reporter- or any citizen- could go to an airport and talk to someone without havin to get permission from authorities.
Dick Allgire
KITV News, Honolulu

Polar ocean ‘soaking up less CO2’

By Paul Rincon – Science reporter, BBC News

The Southern Ocean is an important natural carbon sink
One of Earth’s most important absorbers of carbon dioxide (CO2) is failing to soak up as much of the greenhouse gas as it was expected to, scientists say.

The decline of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean carbon “sink” – or reservoir – means that atmospheric CO2 levels may be higher in future than predicted. These carbon sinks are vital as they mop up excess CO2 from the atmosphere, slowing down global warming.

The study, by an international team, is published in the journal Science.

This effect had been predicted by climate scientists, and is taken into account – to some extent – by climate models. But it appears to be happening 40 years ahead of schedule.

The data will help refine models of the Earth’s climate, including those upon which the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are based.

Climate Guide: Carbon cycle

Of all the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, only half of it stays there; the rest goes into carbon sinks.

There are two major natural carbon sinks: the oceans and the land “biosphere”. They are equivalent in size, each absorbing a quarter of all CO2 emissions. The Southern Ocean is thought to account for about 15% of all carbon sinks.

Sink efficiency

It was assumed that, as human activities released more CO2 into the atmosphere, ocean sinks would keep pace, absorbing a comparable percentage of this greenhouse gas.

The breakdown in efficiency of these sinks was an expected outcome, but not until the second half of the 21st Century.

Lead researcher Corinne Le Quere and colleagues collected atmospheric CO2 data from 11 stations in the Southern Ocean and 40 stations across the globe.

Measurements of atmospheric CO2 allowed them to infer how much carbon dioxide was taken up by sinks. The team was then able to see how efficient they were in comparison to one another at absorbing CO2. “Ever since observations started in 1981, we see that the sinks have not increased [in their absorption of CO2],” Corinne LeQuere told the BBC’s Science in Action programme. They have remained the same as they were 24 years ago even though the emissions have risen by 40%.”

The cause of the decline in the Southern Ocean sink, the researchers explain, is a rise in windiness since 1958.

This increase in Southern Ocean winds has been attributed to two factors. The first is the depletion of ozone in the upper atmosphere, which changes the temperature of this region. The second is recent climate change, which warms the tropics more than the Southern Ocean. Both these processes change atmospheric circulation over the Southern Ocean, resulting in stronger winds.

Churning waters

Oceans store much of their CO2 in deep waters. But, explained Dr Le Quere, “as the winds increase, the water in the ocean mixes more”. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientist added: “The CO2 that would normally be in the deep ocean and would just stay there instead gets brought up to the surface and outgasses to the atmosphere.”

The ocean surface becomes saturated with CO2 and cannot take up any more from the atmosphere.

Corals are vulnerable to ocean acidification
Dr Sus Honjo, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, US, is working on a separate project to assess the efficiency of the Southern Ocean carbon sink, using a different method.

He said recent developments in technology now made possible very detailed monitoring of marine carbon sinks, with some data available in real time. “We have been way behind the modellers, who are hungry for numbers. But now we are starting to catch up because of the new tools and instruments available,” he told BBC News.

Dr Honjo said recent evidence suggested the north-western Pacific appeared to be another significant CO2 sink.

As CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, it makes them more acidic, harming populations of marine organisms such as coral. The latest study suggests that phenomenon will only get worse over the century.

“The problem is that the extra CO2 from human emissions stays in the surface ocean and does not get removed to deep waters,” said Dr Le Quere. “So the problem gets worse, because the biological organisms affected by ocean acidification live, of course, at the surface where there is sunlight.”
Paul.Rincon-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk