December 04, 2004
Enzyme Tricks Human Eggs Into Dividing As If Fertilized

Unfertilized human eggs can be tricked into going through the series of cell divisions characteristic of the first 5 days post fertilization.

The tricked eggs divide for four or five days until they reach 50 to 100 cells – the blastocyst stage. These blastocysts should in theory yield stem cells, but because they are parthenogenetic – produced from the egg only – they cannot be viewed as a potential human life, says Karl Swann of the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff, UK.

An enzyme which is normally present in sperm and involved in fertilization was isolated and applied to eggs with no sperm in sight.

Swann’s team tricked the eggs into dividing by injecting phospholipase C-zeta (PLC-zeta), an enzyme produced by sperm that Swann discovered two years ago with Cardiff colleague Tony Lai.

It sounds like Swann's group is repeating with human eggs a process he already demonstrated with mouse eggs a couple of years ago.

This brings up a question I raised in the context of possibly being able to some day isolate pluripotent stem cells from the blood of pregnant women: Will religiously motivated opponents of human embryonic stem cell research (hESC) find this latest technique to be an objectionable way to get cells to use to study embryo development or to induce cells to become organs? After all, there is no fertilization by a sperm (and, as we all know, Every Sperm is Sacred) to trigger the hypothesized moment of ensoulment. So are these cells ethically acceptable for stem cell research?

Biological scientists are going to continue to come up with new ways of manipulating cells that make them hard to place into traditional categories based on their origins. Either the religious folks are going to adopt a definition of human life as beginning at conception or they are going to have to define a cell as the beginning point of life by use of a still-to-be-elucidated statement of epigenetic state of an embryonic cell. If they go the latter route they are going to have to wait till science advances far enough that it can describe the epigenetic state (which will likely be a range of states) that can come into existence right after fertilization and then apply that definition to all other cells that have one of those states regardless of how it got there.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 December 04 09:29 PM  Biotech Organ Replacement

Patrick said at December 4, 2004 10:57 PM:

Of course there is no one "religious group". There's a big section that will have no real objection to unfertilized egg cells, there's a big chunk of the remainder that will accept embryonic cells from the mother's blood, and pretty soon you are left with a radical core that no-one (not even the sensible religious groups) takes seriously. They can safely be ignored, or at least as safely as the animal rights groups.

Yehoshua Friedman said at December 12, 2004 2:35 AM:

Unlike Catholics, Orthodox Jews do not believe that human life begins at conception. The most common position is that the embryo becomes ensouled at 40 days. The culpability for abortion can in some cases be that of murder and in certain cases be less, but the traditional Jewish attitude toward stem-cell research is on the whole developing in a fairly liberal direction.

Tj Green said at December 12, 2004 4:15 PM:

Religion offers endless conflict,where as science offers a world without conflict.

Randall Parker said at December 12, 2004 4:48 PM:


Science offers no way to resolve value conflicts to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Science describes a natural world in which conflict is ubiquitous..

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