This article rightly uses the excellent word “prestidigitation.” Scientists have accomplished the astonishing feat of turning a fully formed adult cell from one type into another. The reason why stem-cells have such theoretical medicinal potential is because they are “pluripotent”, or able to differentiate into any cell type. Normally mature cells are incapable of transforming into other types. Now Harvard scientists have succesfully generated insulin-producing cells in the pancreas of mice from pancreatic exocrine cells. The technique has tremendous potential for medicine, and accomplishes what many have claimed would only be possible with embryonic stem cells.
“The contemplation of nature reveals not only the Creator but also our role in the world that He created. With faith it reveals the greatness of our dignity as creatures created in His image. In order to have life and have it abundantly, in order to reestablish the original harmony of creation, we must respect this divine image in all of creation, especially in human life itself.”
John Paul II
Over at First Things, Stephen Webb discusses Edwin O. Wilson’s “Encyclopedia of Life” project. Read here.
Mark Shea offers this warning on putting too much faith in technology on Catholic Exchange:
Reynolds’ thinking is dangerous for the same reason as most dangerous Western ideas: because he is borrowing a riff from the Christian tradition but not keeping it anchored in that Tradition. Few things are more deadly than Christian virtues that are left to wander alone in the world. In Reynolds’ case, it is the ancient faith in the triumph of the Little Guy (“He has cast down the mighty in their arrogance, and lifted up the lowly”), along with a deeply secular belief that liberation will come, not through the gospel, but through technology.
In light of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s recent erroneous statement that the Church does not teach that abortion is wrong because of early debates about the time of ensoulment, I am reposting this article from Father Tad Pacholczyk:
[T]he moral teaching of the Church is that the human embryo must be treated as if it were already ensouled, even if it might not yet be so. It must be treated as if it were a person from the moment of conception, even if there exists the theoretical possibility that it might not yet be so.
It should also be noted that early ignorance about embryology is what led to the range of opinions about exactly when ensoulment occurs — and Speaker Pelosi’s appeal to Saint Augustine. What she fails to realize is that, even if there is no definition from the Church about the exact moment of ensoulment, the Church has always unambiguously and authoritatively taught that abortion is a grave evil, and also that most Church thinkers are of the mind that we know enough about embryology in the modern day to reasonably conclude that conception is the moment of ensoulment.
Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or “ensouled.” But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.
We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons.
I’m sure you were all too smart to be fooled by the old e-mail that’s still making the rounds that claims that Mars will be as large as the full moon to the naked eye on August 27th, but just in case:
Does anyone still believe that Mars will look as big as the moon this week? Every year, some folks find a forwarded message in their in-box claiming that on Aug. 27, Mars will be as close as it will ever get until the year 2287. That’s totally false, and if you were to go outside expecting a monster Mars tonight, you’d be gravely disappointed.
This report keeps us up-to-date on the Large Hadron Collider, set to begin operation later this year. Scientists are hopeful that it will reveal details about the early moments after the Universe’s formation.
Over at Uncommon Descent, DaveScot offers this defense of the validity of Intelligent Design as a model. It should be noted that he is non-religious and bases his support of ID on scientific grounds.
“Even though SETI, for example, can legitimately search through cosmic radio patterns in the universe for intelligent agency without any clue or promise of being able to discover the nature or source of the intelligence, it seems that applying the same search parameters to patterns found in living things or patterns in the laws that govern the universe, is no longer “science” as it is in SETI. A double standard is brought to light.”
This report from ScienceNews sheds light on a new technique that indicates that stem cells derived from adult tissues are just as useful as those derived from embryos. Read here.
Using the new test, Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and her colleagues provide fresh evidence that stem cells made by “reprogramming” a person’s skin without ever making or destroying an embryo are truly pluripotent, just like embryonic stem cells.
The findings, reported online August 24 in Nature, suggest that these reprogrammed, embryonic-like stem cells could be used for future stem cell therapies in place of embryonic cells, which are more controversial because they are extracted from embryos.
No sooner had I published the post below on the universal genome hypothesis than I came across this article from ScienceDaily: Genome of Simplest Animal Reveals Ancient Lineage, Confounding Array of Complex Capabilities
From the report:
Trichoplax has no neurons, but has many genes that are associated with neural function in more complex animals. “It lacks a nervous system, but it still is able to respond to environmental stimuli. “It has genes, such as ion channels and receptors, that we associate with neuronal functions, but no neurons have ever been reported,” explained Rokhsar.
Of the 11,514 genes identified in the six chromosomes of Trichoplax, 80 percent are shared with cnidarians and bilaterians. Trichoplax also shares over 80 percent of its introns—the regions within genes that are not translated into proteins—with humans. Even the arrangement of genes is conserved between the Trichoplax and human genomes. This stands in contrast to other model systems such as fruit flies and soil nematodes that have experienced a paring down of non-coding regions and a loss of the ancestral genome organizations.