Weekly reads: AL embryos ruling, blasting cancer, marrow organoids, beef inside rice plants

Are small clusters of cells that make up 5-day-old human embryos equivalent to children?

Biologically and in terms of just common sense, the answer is “no.” These tiny spheres have around 100 cells and no organs. Actual people have many trillions of cells, brains, and other organs.

Alabama law on embryos may block IVF

About the only thing these microscopic embryos have in common with people is the DNA is human and the cells are human. While it is true that sometimes very early embryos can grow into people, that is not always the case. Also, they must implant into the uterus for that.

Still, there are people who believe even a one-cell human embryo is a human and some states are pushing in that direction. An Alabama court ruling that early embryos are people could put a chill both on IVF as well as some important research. Let’s start there with our weekly review of the stem cell and regenerative space.

human embryos, stem cells
Photomicrograph of early human embryo development. An arrow in the inset higher magnification view of the hatched blastocyst (breaking out of the zona pellucida) indicates the inner cell mass (ICM) that can produce embryonic stem cells when cultured. Photos courtesy of Meri Firpo.

Frozen embryos are children, Ala. high court says in unprecedented ruling, WaPo. The main effect of this ruling is that IVF and embryo research in AL may screech to a halt.  Some IVF clinics there are already stopping procedures. How can you do IVF if the embryos are already considered children by your state and if any of the embryos don’t make it, you could be in legal trouble?

This news has possible implications for stem cell research too, although that seems relatively less likely. Many may not remember, but it wasn’t so long ago that federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research was illegal for a time in the US.

I generally do not comment on political issues on The Niche. However, it is interesting that the Republican Party has pushed for extreme positions that impact science and medicine, yet now after the Alabama ruling hitting IVF, leaders of the party are distancing themselves from that.

More stem cell & regenerative reads

23 thoughts on “Weekly reads: AL embryos ruling, blasting cancer, marrow organoids, beef inside rice plants”

  1. A 5-day old human blastocyst is about 0.15 mm in diameter – 6 thousandths of an inch. The inner cell mass has about 100 cells. It can’t develop further without a uterus to support it.

    James, your biases are very clear. I know you have been fighting hard for 20 years against human embryonic stem cell research. Your expertise is somatic stem cells, and you wanted all of the funding to go to that work – you sued the NIH to stop funding hESCs. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2013.12171

    If blastocysts are people, what should be done about the hundreds of thousands of people stored in liquid nitrogen freezers?

    Are they prisoners? Slaves?

    Should we compel hundreds of thousands of women to provide uteruses to set them free?

    This is not the first time that politicians and the legal system needed to consult some scientists. But if they asked you if thawing embryos without putting them into a uterus was murder, what would you say?

    1. JLORING2014,

      I’m not sure if any embryo-age human beings are slaves, yet, because I am not aware of any being sold for the benefit of the purchasers. However, in a number of states they are already considered in the law to be alienable property, for whom ownership rights can be transferred and inherited. Ownership, not always custody, as for individuals with inalienable rights.
      There is no doubt that they are innocent prisoners in IVF clinic freezers, but we stopped allowing experimentation on convicted prisoners years ago, and controversy over the death penal continues.
      The inflammatory legal term “murder” is not necessary in this discussion. The point being made is that whenever a viable embryo-age human being is discarded or used for experimentation, a decision has been made by someone to end the life of a living human being. That’s what the public needs to understand. There is no bias in it. That is simply the biological nature of human beings on this planet. Those who know this but choose to hid it or obscure it from the public do our society a great disservice. It IS my bias that no imagined medical advance justifies such acts.

      James @ Asymmetrex®

  2. MIT support Niche view BIOTECHNOLOGY AND HEALTH
    The weird way Alabama’s embryo ruling takes on artificial wombs
    A state supreme court has shocked fertility clinics by ruling that lab embryos are children.

    By Antonio Regaladoarchive page
    February 23, 2024
    Specialist Embryologist Takes a capsule With Embryos from the Cryobank
    This article first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, and read articles like this first, sign up here.

    A ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last week that frozen embryos stored in labs count as children is sending “shock waves” through the fertility industry and stoking fears that in vitro fertilization is getting swept up into the abortion debate.

    The New York Times reports that one clinic, at the University of Alabama, has stopped fertilizing eggs in its laboratory, fearing potential criminal prosecution.

    Fertility centers create millions of embryos a year. Some are frozen and others used in research, but most are intended to be transplanted into patients’ wombs so they can get pregnant. link https://www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1088851/alabama-court-embryo-artificial-wombs/

  3. Genetic entrepreneur Craig Venter explains how his team of researchers created a new life form – and what happens next. Video: Science guardian.co.uk
    Scientists have created the world’s first synthetic life form in a landmark experiment that paves the way for designer organisms that are built rather than evolved.

    The controversial feat, which has occupied 20 scientists for more than 10 years at an estimated cost of $40m, was described by one researcher as “a defining moment in biology”.

    Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out biofuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.

    However critics, including some religious groups, condemned the work, with one organization warning that artificial organisms could escape into the wild and cause environmental havoc or be turned into biological weapons. Others said Venter was playing God.

    The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.

    The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.

    “We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”

    Dr Venter’s team developed a new code based on the four letters of the genetic code, G, T, C and A, that allowed them to draw on the whole alphabet, numbers and punctuation marks to write the watermarks. Anyone who cracks the code is invited to email an address written into the DNA.

    The research is reported online today in the journal Science.

  4. Admin,

    I’m not talking about “views.” I take no issue with a view that you don’t think or feel that embryo-age human beings are as important, as meaningful, as valuable, as socially significant, as morally worthy, or as meritorious as later-age human beings, like yourself at your current stage of human development. What disappoints me is your statements that dismiss the biological significance that human embryos are in fact living human beings, and they couldn’t be anything else. How I feel about IVF or how I feel about certain kinds of contraception has no bearing on this biological knowledge that we both have. It’s wrong for scientists with this knowledge of human biology to obscure its fundamental understanding when informing the public on these challenging issues we now face. Scientists should give our public our honest knowledge of the biology, and then let them decide how they will treat it. We can share, as well, our own personal views on how we think or feel nascent human beings should be regarded and treated, but in so doing, we should not obscure their humanity, which we understand in biological terms very well.

    James @ Asymmetrex®

  5. Paul you are correct making the distance between cells and a living human being or birth of a child ……What is the definition of a living human being?
    Definitions of human being. any living or extinct member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage. synonyms: homo, human, man. What is a life of human being?
    Everyday life, the ways in which people typically act, think, and feel on a daily basis. Human condition, the characteristics and key events that compose the essentials of human existence. Human rights, principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behavior and are regularly protected by law.

  6. Now, Admin, it is quite disappointing to see you pose the “new” question, “Is a human embryo a child?” and then parse your answer so obtusely, when you have the training and knowledge to know very well that a human embryo is a living human being, and it is not just a small cluster of cells. Your answer is no different than suggesting that we are not living human beings until we no longer need a placenta, or go through puberty, or reach our full height. We are living human beings at every stage of our human development; and, yes, starting with our single cell zygotic stage. The issue is not what stage in their development human embryos are. The issue is that they are, in biological fact and in simple truth, living human beings. And you are well-trained enough to know that they are. As responsible scientists, we should help the general public to understand their human biology. Once the public has honest information, they can then decide whatever they will based on the essential knowledge and not on some misleading, obfuscating hand-waving like you are doing now.

    Do better.

    James @ Asymmetrex

    1. @James. Rather bias towards your definition of “scientist” yet the article pinpoints attributions of the legal system and where do we draw-the-line. Even human stem-cell research was illegal at some point in our recent history. (food for thought.)

      1. Just a clarification. Stem cell research was never illegal…just not funded by the federal government before 2001. Private funding was fine.

    2. The flip side of this argument: “Is a 9-month old fetus nothing more than “a cluster of cells” 2 days before its born? The obvious answer to that is “no” but many Democrats believe that there is no distinction and that a 9-month old “clump of cells” can be aborted at the mother’s whim up until birth. Laws in 6 states permit this. There are unreasonable zealots on both sides of this issue.

        1. Admin,

          Bill Jones’ point is not “BS.” In this present discussion, it is a point very well taken. Though no one may be using those exact words, there are many, including the current US President and Vice President, who are telling the public that a full term fetal-age child is not a living human being whose life should be respected and protected by our laws in the same way that a new born-age child is respected and protected as a living human being. They advocate daily to treat 9 month old healthy fetal-age children in the same way that every state, except now Alabama, treats frozen embryo-age children, as if they were meaningless “clusters of cells.” Indeed, Bill Jones’ point is the crux of the matter; and you, Admin and others like you, continue trying to evade acknowledging the truth of this crucial humane position by deploying distractive or dismissive obtuse machinations.

          Do better.

          James @ Asymmetrex®

            1. Admin,

              Now, you understand that no one is suggesting that 5 day-old embryo-age children, 9 month-old fetal-age children, newborn-age children, or toddler-age children are biologically equivalent, because they are of different developmental age. The irrefutable biological knowledge is that when they are the descendants of a fertilized human egg, they are all living human beings. A derivative body cell may not be a human being, but all human beings are cells.

              When you are in power and wish to mistreat human beings at any stage of development, then you can choose to act the same way that slavers treated American slaves, with the false justification that they were subhuman. Frozen human embryos are not subhuman either. They are only HUMAN just like you and I. Deciding to treat them otherwise does not change this fact.

              This is how the public should be informed, and then they can decide whether it matters enough to respect and protect the lives of all our human fellows at their earliest age of life.

              James @ Asymmetrex®

          1. Thanks James. Actually, I think @admin does get it, he’s just deflecting with nonsense about my choice of words instead of actually addressing an inconvenient fact.

        2. The law in 6 states treats a 9-month old fetus, one hour before birth, exactly the same as a 6-week old fetus, or even a “Plan B” “clump of cells”. Call it whatever you want. The people who support abortion up to birth are every bit as unreasonable as those on the “IVF” side of the issue. The problem is that neither side can give an inch without admitting that the other side is right to some extent.

          1. StemCellSciGuy

            There are effectively no people who support abortion up to birth. That narrative is a ploy to try and get otherwise reasonable people to join the ‘Anti-choice’ side of the equation. Using that narrative is clearly not ethically based, nor scientifically based.

            The whole debate is based on mainly “My religion says this is wrong”. Adding religious views to most medical decisions for a society is always going to be fraught with problems.

            There must be a reasonable balance of cells/fetus status vs the Rights and freedom of the human woman. Claiming one is total over the other is not realistic. But the Rights of the human woman is often completely ignored. It’s telling that the debate over reproductive rights seems to totally and completely be ignored by one side of the ‘discussion’. Very telling.

            But the debate aside on the larger issue, total bans on abortion will clearly and unequivocally wreak havoc on women’s lives, women’s health, and over course the ability to use IVF and ART in a reasonable manner. The laws of anti-abortion are incompatible with reproductive medicine. And we all know that.

            1. StemCellSciGuy,

              Your final two hyperbolic statements, “The laws of anti-abortion are incompatible with reproductive medicine. And we all know that.” quite simply are two ridiculous oxymoronic statements.

              Thank goodness there are more people having this discussion who make an effort at rational arguments on either side of the issue. Hyperbolic nonsense achieves nothing worthwhile…just more confusion and discord.

              James @ Asymmetrex®

              1. StemCellSciGuy

                That is an interesting point of view. One that has been put your comments many times, in many forms of media. Perhaps one should look inwards first before speaking outward.

                Look at any major medical institution such as ASRM or ACOG. They are firmly in the camp that restrictions on reproductive rights are not compatible with modern medicine or human rights. One just dismissing this is to dismiss the foundation of modern science. But perhaps some people do wish to dismiss modern science in favor of the Dark Ages, or perhaps ‘The Good Ole Days’ as some people say.

                I appreciate discussion, but often the anti-choice debate is one not based in logic, or ethics, or compassion, but religious doctrine. And one must remember that ones faith is not everyone’s faith.

                1. [Guy],

                  The fact that some people object to aborting fetal children or destroying IVF embryo children based on their religious beliefs does not erase the prevalent scientific, ethical, and moral objections of both atheists or religious people that are excluded in the common obtuse positions of pro-abortioners.

                  James @ Asymmetrex®

                  1. Dear James,
                    The fact the the majority of America, and increasing the majority of the world, is clearly towards the rights to chose reproductive freedom, it is an interesting position you pose. The Anti-Choice movement only works because it is tacked onto politics as a platform motivator.

                    It is also telling that two men are arguing literally about a woman’s reproductive system. Very telling… ethically speaking.

                    As my woman friends tell me, “We aren’t incubators” That’s all the ethics most people need. Any other argument is a distraction. And pushing someone else’s personal point of view onto their freedoms.

                    So no matter whether it’s ethics, if it is politics, if its science, if its simple population majority…. the facts are clear: Abortion should be a individuals choice.

                    Good day sir!

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