Nov 23 2006

Genetic Breakthrough Setback For Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Published by at 8:43 am under All General Discussions,Stem Cell Debate

There is a major breakthrough in genetics being announced today that will forever change the science of genetics, and which just made the challenges facing Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) even more daunting. The news out is the discovery that we have more than one copy of some genes which provide for much more variability in traits. Here’s the news:

The discovery has astonished scientists studying the human genome – the genetic recipe of man. Until now it was believed the variation between people was due largely to differences in the sequences of the individual ” letters” of the genome.

It now appears much of the variation is explained instead by people having multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome.

For a simple example (I made up), we can look to eye color. Most people know blue eyes are recessive so that you need two blue-eye genes to have the trait exposed. Brown eyes are dominant so even the existence of one brown-eye gene will produce brown eyes. I have always suspected that there had to be more than one pair of genes involved because there are so many variations in the blues and browns we see. This discover means there are multiple pairs of genes combining to make one trait. So each copy of the blue or brown add or deletes some tint.

So here is the rub. It may require 3 good copies of a gene to establish the perfect ‘mix’ of a trait. This capability adds resiliency to the organism (you could take a hit in one copy and the other copies provide for the right result). But it also adds a lot of complexity. It may be we need three copies producing a certain protein because we need a certain production level to create the proper neuron or nervous system. If the production is hampered by a defective copy, then that may be the cause of an illness or genetic defect.

While this discovery is a huge leap forward for genetics, it is a huge set back for ESCR. The reason being is scientist thought they only need to worry about activating and sequencing one gene to create a specific result. With this discovery the problem just became exponentially more complicated (which means you square or cube the challenge, not simply double or triple it). Sadly, the problem was already a mathematical Mt. Everest. With somewhere around 35,000 genes to deal with, and each one requiring entry and exit conditions for proper activation, which include temperature, Ph and a myriad of other chemical conditions, the problem of controlling a long sequence, in order and for the proper time span, means there are millions upon millions of combinations to work out (actually more but lets just keep this to a level most people can get their heads around). The time to work the problem out is dictated by how many sequences you can try in a week. Being highly aggressive and optimistic let’s assume 4 a week. You can do the math and see millions of combinations will take life times to work through.

And that was before this news came out. The Adult Stem Cells are partially differentiated, therefore the number of combinations to try is massively reduced. Embryonic Stem Cells can produce any cell type. Adult Stem Cells can only transform into a few close cousin types. The distance between an Adult Stem Cell and their cousin is much, much closer than the Embryonic Stem Cell and that exact same cell type. That is why ESCR has so many challenges and is rapidly falling behind the ASCR in terms of producing results. Remember, ever transformation step poses a risk for a mistep! So there are a lot of dead ends facing ESCR, where ASCR has already jumped past these dangerous dead ends.

This is very interesting news, a major scientific breakthrough. And it will tell us a lot about a lot of things.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Genetic Breakthrough Setback For Embryonic Stem Cell Research”

  1. Happy Thanksgiving…

    Off for the day of football (go Dolphins), turkey and family, so unless the world blows up or Alcee Hastings says something stupid, I’ll be back tomorrow.
    Before you headout though make sure you read Rush Limbaugh’s annual, The Real Story …

  2. MerlinOS2 says:


    Good support for your position even before this news broke


    One answer, however, is that cells “know” what to do, and what to become, by coming into contact with adjacent cells. In fact, the body should be thought of as a society of cells that “learn” from one another. It is like a highly successful school, in which billions of pupils learn from each other how to specialize into hundreds of different trades. The stem-cell scientist is the optimist who believes he can isolate a single infant from this school and, by private tutoring and coaxing, propel it along a particular path of specialization. This, it seems to me, is the great error underlying the therapeutic theory of stem cells. Scientists don’t know how the body’s “school” works, and yet they imagine they can replicate its results in the isolation of the lab. To date, the only realistic method at their disposal has been trial and error.

  3. the good doctor says:

    The only One who can really modulate EC is G-d. He does it quite well looking as to how little is the percentage of abnormalities in the human population. The only thing that worries me is that this will push for cloning despite their failure to modulate EC. Even if it is cloned is still the same very primitive and undefferentiated EC.This insanity will be push by despearte scientists and the dems to try to capture the white house in 2008.

  4. The Macker says:

    MerlinOS2 ,
    Although we know quite a bit about the structure of the atom and molecules, we don’t really understand their organizational properties. We don’t really know how molecules “organize” into crystals.

  5. garrettc says:

    One aspect of the schooling metaphore, that is ignored, is the hugh cost of growing specific kinds of cell lines from embryonic stem cells. There is the cost of developing a large battery of specialized growth factors, the right types of cell layers to provide essential enviornments and probably a host of other supportive chemicals, thaqt will be needed.

    Is anyone willing to devote, say, half of NIH’s grant funds to this research over the next twenty years? At the expense of vaccine development and cancer research?

    How many pharmaceutical companies can devote large shares of their capital to a risky project, whose product may not have a large market? It is one thing to develop a majic bullet that will kill cancer cells, quite another to develop a growth factor that is only one of many needed to nudge cells along a certain developmental path.

    Not to mention that these stems cells will eventually express the genetic self recognition markers, making tissue rejection a barrier to overcome.

    So, who, in fact will pay the hundreds of thousands to biochemically nudge a stem cell in the right direction to become a differentiatable proto neuron, that will finally become replacement dopaminergic neurons in Uncle John’s brain, who has advanced Parkinson’s. Assuming, of course that Parkinson’s disease is caused by some degenerative signal contained within the nerve, and not a host of external signals and players.

    Certainly not an already overburdened medicare system. Certainly not one’s insurance, which usually has a one million cap on it. Certainly not the fragile finances of typical families.

    All this effort will be used to support the fabulously wealthy, for the forseable future.

  6. ama055131 says:

    More information you give us the more aummo I have when debating
    those that are still stuck in their DEM. talking points.