Spinal Confusion

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

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Simply Atrocious

A writer for the Bryan-College Station Eagle penned what may be the most inaccurate piece on embryonic stem cell research I have ever read.

First, there is a lack of consistency in the terminology the author uses to describe the embryo.

Some religious groups believe that life begins when sperm and an egg collide; they condemn research that causes embryos to be destroyed.
Notice the inference: "when sperm and egg collide" equals an embryo.

To obtain stem cells, the fertilized egg is allowed to grow for a few days. Then the inner cell mass is removed and cultured into stem cells. These stem cells have the ability to develop into different types of cells that the body needs.
Fertilized egg? Not too bad. The reader can easily substitute embryo for fertilized egg.

Religious objections arise because the fertilized cell is considered to be alive; therefore, to destroy it is tantamount to murder or abortion.
Fertilized cell? Please tell me this author is just trying to catch their editor asleep at the keyboard?

Luckily, that's where the terminology issue ends. Unfortunately, factual errors continue.

To appease both sides, in 2004, President Bush declared that only 15 lines of stem cells would be eligible for federally funded research.
If you can't say anything nice, just provide corrections.

Bush's decision was made in August, 2001. He (arguably) believed he was authorizing funding for over 60 lines, but only 22 are currently available.

A recent development (SCNT) that does not use embryonic cells allows medical researchers to take cells from a patient's body to make stem cells.
SCNT, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, produces an embryo.

This process is called somatic cell nuclear transfer. To make the stem cells, the nucleus from the patient's somatic cell (skin, heart or muscle) is transferred to an empty, unfertilized egg cell that has its nucleus removed. The egg cell with the new nucleus then produces unspecialized stem cells in lab dishes that can be used in general way.
SCNT does indeed produce "unspecialized", or embryonic, stem cells, but not directly. SCNT produces a functionally competent zygote, which goes on to form a blastocyst in about 5 days.

At this point, the blastocyst makes up the entirety of the organism. The blastocyst has two main structures: 1) the inner cell mass, comprised of embryonic stem cells, and 2) the trophoblast, which is the "skin" or outer layer that contains the embryonic stem cells. To obtain the embryonic stem cells, scientists must destroy the blastocyst, what many believe to be life.

The site lists no email address to submit corrections, but feel free to email these guys with the above corrections.