Studying Embryonic Stem Cells for…Space Travel?

ChelseaBioethics, Embryo Experimentation, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Genetic Engineering1 Comment

I’ve told you many times that, though they may be sold to the public as necessary for the future curing of every major disease known to man, scientists want to, and indeed are using embryonic stem cells for many other reasons. For example: A team of researchers in Australia simulated zero-gravity on earth in order to test how embryonic stem cells would hold up in space. And what, pray tell, is the purpose of such observation and experimentation? Why, to determine whether it would be safe for humans to procreate in space, of course! Because we’re all in eager anticipation for the day when we can finally travel into space and make babies. Wait, what?

Yes, according to lead researcher Marcel, human procreation in space is inevitable and we need to tear apart tiny human beings on earth now in order to test how their stem cells would develop in space later. The results? Not promising:

The researchers simulated zero-G conditions on Earth and then placed embryonic stem cells inside. They discovered that 64 percent of the stem cell proteins were fundamentally different from how they would be in normal gravity. And the changes weren’t good – most of the altered proteins would weaken bones and allow increased oxidative damage to DNA. Damage was also done to proteins involved with the immune system, proper cell division, calcium levels, and much more.

It turns out, (shocker) we were made to live in gravity and our cells don’t respond well when they lack that vital force. This is why adults who have spent long periods of time in microgravity have suffered health problems like weaker bones and muscles and an irregular heartbeat. The answer? Genetic engineering!

“Human procreation in space is inevitable, I believe. Therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention may not be the optimum outcome. Humans may have to consider that in the not so distant future, genetic engineering our bodies may be the way forward if we are to explore planets in our solar system. However, this raises other ethical and moral issues.”

Actually, this whole thing is fraught with ethical and moral issues, if you ask me. And for what? Babies in space? I’m not necessarily saying it will never happen or that space exploration is unimportant. But, come on. Human embryos are human beings in their earliest stages of development not biological specimen for scientific experimentation. Thankfully some scientists are still (kind of) honest enough to acknowledge this:

“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters, I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.” –Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, Ph.D. stem cell research pioneer in nuclear reprogramming. New York Times

“If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough,” –Dr. James Thompson , stem cell scientist who isolated the first ESCs NY Times

As for genetic engineering: see here and here for a thorough examination of the ethics of GE and the difference between gene therapy and genetic enhancement (which this would certainly fall under).

Of course, Wesley Smith has it right:

“The biotech agenda has never been about stem cell research. That is only a stage. The ultimate agenda is Brave New World, e.g. genetic engineering, reproductive cloning, post humanism, and anything goes.” — Wesley J. Smith comments on Gregg Easterbrook’s Embrace Human Cloning (h/t Rebecca Taylor)

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