English 165LB: Literature & Biotechnology (W11)

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Archive for the ‘discussion’ Category

Discussion: The Surrogates

Posted by rraley on March 8, 2011

// Discussion thread for surrogates, proxies, designing the self

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Posted by rraley on March 2, 2011

// Discussion thread for genetically modified or genetically engineered foods

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Splice to meet you (with discussion questions)

Posted by rraley on March 1, 2011

// from Hayley and Kellyn

In 2005 researchers inserted “human embryonic stem cells into the brains of fetal mice inside the womb,” thus creating mice 1% of their brains functioning human brain cells. Many are wondered if this crossed the line, while others, such as Stanford’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine director, Irv Weissman, sees it this way:

Anybody who puts their own moral guidance in the way of this biomedical science, where they want to impose their will—not just be part of an argument—if that leads to a ban or moratorium. … they are stopping research that would save human lives.

The goal of creating these Frankenmice was to “[provide] a living laboratory where scientists [could] study human brain diseases and drug companies [could] test the safety of experimental medicines.” In creating these new genetically engineered test subjects, speculative fiction warns us against forgetting what Kac describes as the cognitive and emotional life of these animals. Gradually reducing an living being to the cognitive state of Atwood’s ChickieNobs is crossing a hard to define line between progress and ethics.

This view is shared by the opposition to Frankenmice which insists that creating these mice “would deny that there is something distinctive and valuable about human beings that ought to be honored and protected.”


(2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/12/AR2005121201388.html

Another genetically modified group of animals reminiscent of the “pigoons” from Oryx and Crake are used produce drugs. Goats and chickens are the factories used to produce these drugs. “Just after fertilization, ‘pharmers’ insert into the embryo a human gene that codes for a particular protein — usually one that’s produced naturally in humans, but that’s lacking in people who have certain diseases. They attach that DNA code with a gene that codes for a sugar found in mammalian milk, insuring that the therapeutic protein will be expressed only in the animals’ milk or eggs.” These proteins are then isolated and used in the creation of the drugs. The benefit of this method is that a in one year a single goat can produce the  equivalent amount of protein for one drug, for example, Anthrombin,  as havested from 50,000 humans. But what are the costs??


The mice, whether actualized or not (it seems that the fully humanized mouse brains never came into existence), and “phaarmed” animals raise a new set of questions.

– What is this “distinctive and valuable” aspect of humanity that goes beyond the scientific definition of a species?

– When have we created a new species that does not have enough human genes or characteristics to classify it as human?

– Is it our bodies, our brains, our genes, a mixture of the 3, or something else that makes us human?

– What species then do we call these human/mice chimeras and what keeps us from viewing this species as natural since they are created by natural beings(us)?

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Bioart discussion

Posted by rraley on February 26, 2011

Discussion questions:

(1) What can we make of the use of living beings as a medium for art?
(2) What is the significance of duplicating the tools, techniques, and materials of the biological sciences?
(3) What are your overall thoughts about transgenic art?

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Placebos Are Getting More Effective (Wired)

Posted by rraley on February 22, 2011

In relation to our conversation last week about Atwood:

“…From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.”

From “Placebos Are Getting More Effective,” Wired (August 2009)

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Oryx and Crake discussion thread

Posted by rraley on February 17, 2011

Discussion thread for Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake….

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Tissue as gift or economic exchange?

Posted by rraley on February 15, 2011

// from Kellyn and Hayley

American society provides evidence for perceiving organ donations as both gifts and commodities. From the donor perspective- donation may be a gift with no expected payment. But once it is donated and in the hands of a hospital, byproduct company, or organ procurement organization, it assumes economic potential.

In one article Professor Tsuyoshi Awaya,  of Tokuyama University in Japan explains the “quasi-commercialization of the human body as the “Human Revolution.” Awaya points out that “tissue services have already become big business.” The processing fees collected by companies when exchanging human products is only a different way to state someone is purchasing an organ or part of someone else’s body. http://homepage1.nifty.com/awa/hp/ronbun/r010.html

The US Government’s organ donor site certainly portrays donation as the ultimate gift, asking Americans to “DONATE the gift of LIFE.” They almost try to guilt people into donation by displaying statistics such as 18 people die everyday while waiting for an organ. Appeals to the heart also come from the pictures displayed of donors and recipients whose stories all happen to portray them as angelic beings. The Internet eases the process of registering to be an organ donor and/or putting one’s organs and tissues into circulation for research. http://www.organdonor.gov/default.asp

However, a counterpoint to gift exchange is the clear use of tissues as commodities of economic exchange in bioproduct catalogues. The Europa Bioproducts online catalogue offers human plasma alongside plant tissue in a format creepily similar to that of retailers such as Target or Amazon, and in bulk sizing like Costco products.


Seralab’s Catalogue lists all products from either normal or diseased human donors:

Amniotic Fluid, Bile, Biopsy Tissue, Bladder Tissue, Blister Fluid, Bone Marrow, Bone, Brain, Brain (Homogenate), Breast Milk, Bronchial Lavage, Colon Tissue, Cancer Tissues, Cerebral Spinal Fluid, Ear Wax, Fat, Faeces, Gall Bladder, Gastric Fluid, etc.

They also list all the diseased tissues they can provide:

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Asthma, Cancer (all types), Cardiac Disease, Chagas, Chlamydia, Crohn’s Disease, etc.

“A detailed certificate of analysis accompanies each sample supplying the age, gender and medications of each donor as well as any additional clinical information requested at the time of order,” serving as reminder that the products up for sale and ready for experimentation are the materials of human beings—with medical histories, and life histories. People who were once so much more than their Alzheimer’s diseased tissue now up for sale. It’s a weird thought.


Does the United States use tissue as a gift exchange or as economic exchange? Which is the better option? Should tissues belong to the person from whom they originated, to the company who receives them, or as a part of the idealized “commons” as discussed in lecture?

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Organ donation & presumed consent (via Stephanie B)

Posted by rraley on February 11, 2011

From an NHS site, “Opt In or Opt Out“:

“The current “opt-in” system of organ donation – where individuals are asked to register their willingness to be a donor after their death – has been the subject of debate for many years. Due to the serious shortage of organ donors and consequent waiting lists for transplant operations in the UK, it is often suggested that the altruistic approach to organ donation is in need of review. The British Medical Association (BMA), many transplant surgeons, and some patients’ groups and politicians are keen to see Britain adopt a system of “presumed consent”, where it is assumed that an individual wishes to be a donor unless he or she has “opted out” by registering their objection to donation after their death.”

From the Telegraph, “The case for presuming consent” (November 5, 2010):

“There are tricky ethical issues about increases to incentives. To pay for organs, like kidneys, might tempt the poor to risk their lives. The idea that a donor should be given priority if they require a transplant later in life raises problems of need versus desert. The British Medical Association and the British Heart Foundation both want to switch to a system of presumed consent, where it is assumed everyone is willing to donate unless they opt out. In the past that idea has met with hostility, partly out of squeamishness, partly because many feel the state is untrustworthy to administer these matters. But countries that use this system have 25-30 per cent more organs available for transplant. Surveys show that 90 per cent of Britons support organ donation and yet the law currently assumes the opposite. Since only 23 per cent of the population have registered their wish to donate, thousands of bodies are buried or cremated with viable organs simply because people never got around to making their wishes known. The decision falls to the family when they have just been told their relative has died or is dying.”

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Cloning- some history and thoughts

Posted by ktrummer on February 2, 2011

// From Hayley & Kellyn

The science behind cloning is not a recent development, so for many, the idea of a cloned animal does not elicit much surprise. Just as in Never Let Me Go somehow we’re all vaguely aware of cloning in recent history and we’ve more or less accepted it as a presence in our future.

As early as 1952 scientists had cloned a tadpole, extracting the nucleus of one of the original tadpole’s cells and inserting into an egg, giving life to “twin” tadpoles. (1)

In 1993 scientists first cloned human embryonic cells. They took an embryonic cell after it divided into two, and then cultured the cells separately, “creating two different embryos with the same genetic information.” This process mimics the natural creation of identical twins. This led to a public outrage over the cloning of humans. But why is it so much worse to clone humans than animals? (2)

In 1996 Dolly the sheep was born, making her “the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, rather than an embryo.” This was a major breakthrough in the world of cloning. She now resides behind glass in a museum, on display.  (3)

In 2007 a man with HIV received blood stem cells through a bone marrow transplant, which thus far has lead him to be HIV free, leading many to believe that he is cured. The stem cells came from a donor with a rare mutation that resists HIV. According to Jerome Zack, an HIV researcher, “Ultimately, the results would need to be reproduced before researchers could know whether this was an option for treating HIV, Zack said. And, practically, finding donors would be a challenge — only one percent of Northern Europeans are known to have this particular mutation.” Is this how the donating program in Never Let Me Go started? (4)

By 2016 scientists believe they will have cloned a wooly mammoth. (5) What in God’s name will we do with a wooly mammoth?!

Perhaps the most pressing question of all regarding cloning asks whether or not we will ever reproductively clone a human. For what purposes would we do so?

-To further the knowledge of science?
-To satiate our curiosity?
-To replace a lost child?
-For organ donation? As imagined in Never Let Me Go

If we do clone a human being, will that human be allowed to actually be “human?” Will they lead a normal life, or will they be brought into the world without their consent, subject to endless proddings and pokings to further science?


This is a blog that represents pro-cloning viewpoints. One blogger’s response to people’s resistance of cloning- “It’s no wonder their first digs at this biotechnology come from science fiction and extremists.”


(1) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862459,00.html

(2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,979522,00.html

(3) http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical/timeline/Dolly

(4) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40666443/ns/health-aids/

(5) http://www.pcworld.com/article/216872/scientists_to_clone_woolly_mammoth_in_five_years.html

-Hayley and Kellyn

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John Weldon animation on cloning, copies, and the “original”

Posted by rraley on February 1, 2011

John Weldon, “To Be,” via Victor Banuelos

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