“To Serve Man”

Holy Crap.

So why am I taking Crap’s name in vain?  This bang-head-here piece of news:

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, has filed Senate Bill 115 on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Conference lobbyist Danny Loar said the bill is designed to be a “pre-emptive strike” against scientists who might want to mix “human and animal cells in a Petri dish for scientific research purposes”

(Shouldn’t that be human and other animal cells?  What am I, a petunia?)

So, if this mosquito sucks my blood, and I squish her and drop her (with my blood cells inside her) onto a Petri dish, would that be illegal?

a mosquito sucking blood from my arm

a mosquito sucking blood from my arm

Yeah, they’re trying to prevent stem-cell research; but come on, no one is going to make centaurs or Fly-Human monsters or Playboy bunnies.  And I don’t believe that theoretical smear of biological mush I’ve just rubbed onto the agar contains crumbs of my soul in the red white blood cells, nor did any of my eggs (fertilized or otherwise) that were shed over my lifetime.

When I teach a class on seed-starting and we are talking about how to take cuttings of coleus, geraniums, Swedish ivy, or rosemary, I describe how we stick them in rooting hormone (if needed), and then in media to grow more of the same kind of plant. I tell my students, “You’ve just cloned a plant.  It’s genetically identical to the parent plant.”

Coleus cuttings rooting in water-filled champagne flutes on a window sill

Coleus cuttings rooting in water-filled champagne flutes on a window sill

I then go on to explain in brief (as this is a non-credit class), that there are dormant cells in those plant stems that can grow into any kind of cell, such as a root cell.  Because plants have these “totipotent” cells that can become any other kind of cell, we can take cuttings and roots will grow where there were no roots before.

We can also cut the very tip of the stem off, place it into culture medium with tiny amounts of plant hormones, and encourage those cells to grow into lots more cells — and that’s another way how plants are cloned, by using tissue culture to produce hundreds and thousands of the same plant, and they’re even free of diseases and pests.

Clear plastic box containing dozens of tiny plantlets from tissue culture

Clear plastic box containing dozens of tiny plantlets from tissue culture

Gee, if we could take a few cells from people, we could grow you new skin for burn victims, new livers for people with liver cancer, and so on. Best of all, those pieces of tissue or organs would not be rejected by the body because they would not be foreign cells, the would be your own. (Nor would you need heavy doses of drugs to suppress your immune system to keep it from reacting to the foreign donor organs.)

But we can’t, because although plants have totipotent cells, we don’t.  After a certain stage in development, we don’t have these stem cells.  (I pause for a couple of seconds, and it’s great to see the “light bulb effect” pass through the room as people get the concept.)

Ooh, human cells with other cells, scary.  Do the bishops not realise that each human is an entire ecosystem, with millions of bacteria in our guts and on our skin, and an astonishing number of infinitesimal mites living on our eyelashes and brows?  Do they not realise that their mitochondria has its own DNA, different than the nuclear DNA?  Do they not realise that we already use genetic recombinant technology to make insulin for diabetics?

Um by the way, isn’t this piece of legislation mixing government and religion in a Petri dish?


  1. Suzee Quince said,

    2 March 2012 at 1:23

    Yes, dropping that mosquito into a Petri dish would be illegal. If I were you, I’d use a cereal bowl instead so you don’t get in trouble!

    This is what happens when non-technical people are given the authority to make technical decisions. It also speaks volumes about the second-rate education available in (too) many Southern states.

    Musicians can tell the difference between two notes, while tone-deaf people cannot, and don’t even know they’re tone-deaf. Similarly, smart people know they’re smart, but dumb people don’t know they’re dumb.

  2. mia said,

    7 May 2009 at 3:25

    Wow, I just found your site, and although it is late and I don’t really understand it, I’ll be back. Because, I WILL understand it some day if I keep reading and researching. And, reading your blog, of course.

  3. fridawrites said,

    23 April 2009 at 14:50

    Huh, we already use animal products for thyroid replacement, diabetes medication, estrogen replacement, etc.–I guess now we’d have to stop testing new drugs using animal derivatives or products. As a side note, I doubt they’re predicating their argument on animal rights.

  4. qw88nb88 said,

    22 April 2009 at 22:15

    Er, yeah, RED blood cells. Good catch! (That’s what comes of writing posts before I crash in bed late nights…)

    Focusing stem-cell research on just particular issues has its benefits and drawbacks. Yes, it makes the usefulness more apparent to the general public. However, because general stem-cell research has been hampered by not only a shortage of funding and a limited number of usable cell lines (less than half of the 60+ lines boasted of G.W. Bush were actually viable), the amount of basic research that provides the background for how such practical applications can be done has also be much reduced and delayed.

    The problem with research (especially in newer fields of study) is that science does not necessarily proceed in a straight-forward way. There are lots of unexpected difficulties, detours, dead ends and yes, serendipity that play into the progress of developing the knowledge, skills, materials, and personnel. Real science is often slower and messier than one would imagine from the discoveries and advancements described in basic schoolbooks.


  5. Clay said,

    21 April 2009 at 15:13

    And I don’t believe that theoretical smear of biological mush I’ve just rubbed onto the agar contains crumbs of my soul in the red blood cells,

    Um, I thought the soul crumbs were in the white blood cells? ;-)

    Just last night, I was thinking that while it’s great that the new administration will now be funding and allowing stem cell research, it should encourage scientists to focus their efforts on one particular thing, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s. When a success can be claimed, it would put the kibosh on all the naysayers who would benefit themselves, or have a friend or relative who would benefit. It would open the doors to more research funding for other things that could be repaired by stem cells.

  6. Fleecy said,

    21 April 2009 at 14:51

    Excellent post. :) Very educational and entertaining too.

  7. Kathleen said,

    21 April 2009 at 13:04

    perhaps, if the heading of your post refers to the “Twilight Zone” episode, the senator is equating scientists with “Kanamits”…?

  8. The Goldfish said,

    21 April 2009 at 11:58

    Andrea, you really are an excellent science teacher! If a little eccentric for allowing a mosquito to bite your arm. And I love the idea of a “Playboy Bunny” chimera.

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