Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Senator Talent Screws Up

Missouri Senator Jim Talent recently announced that he was dropping his support of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act because he now favors an alternative method of deriving embryonic stem cells known as Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT).

I will get to ANT in a minute, but first I want to focus on the good in something Talent said. He proposed that the NIH fund 5 centers, to the tune of $10 million each, to further develop the ANT procedure for human use. The first center to do so will receive a $20 million prize.

While I am no fan of the government funding an X-prize like competition, I think this is a positive step. Like Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, he is proposing funding for research into alternative derivation methods. In itself, this is a great thing.

Now, the bad.

ANT has been referenced here before, but not too kindly. The belief that life begins at conception and support for ANT cannot, in my mind, coexist in the mind of a rational person.

The product of conception is a zygote. The product of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) -- when an egg is the recipient cell -- is, at least functionally, a zygote. Similarly, the product of ANT is functionally equivalent to a zygote.

If a person believes that a zygote is the first stage of life, then they must oppose both SCNT and ANT to remain logically consistent.

But, that's not even what riles me up the most. A Senator should not use legislation to force scientists to research only one option. If Talent had suggested using money to, generally speaking, fund research into alterntive methods of generating ESCs, I would have loved it. But, he had to go and attach ANT to it.