Here’s something that should be a bit of a non-starter of an issue.
The work is expected to take at least a year, but its leaders hope it will help establish guidelines for scientists in Britain and around the world on how far the public is prepared to see them go in mixing human genes into animals to discover ways to fight human diseases.
Genes cloned from humans with diseases to develop model organisms to study diseases. I’m not sure exactly why anyone would have a problem with replacing the gene for a protein found in a specific organism with one from a disease-type gene found in affected humans.
“Do most of us care if we make a mouse whose blood cells or liver are human? Probably not,” he said. “But if it can speak? If it can think? Or if it is conscious in a human way? Then we’re in a completely different ballpark.”
I still fail to see how this is an issue. First of all, every vertebrate has some level of thought processes (read: they think) and thus we are trying to draw an arbitrary line in the sand. Secondly, can we cross that bridge IF we get there (which I highly doubt we would, when working with mice, rabbits, and yeast). Thirdly, why is vocalization and communication so important to this notion of “conscious?” Let’s have a real debate, and it should start out with questions such as “what are the reservations of the public against the use of human genes in model organisms?”
If the reply has anything to do with “it will make them like us, and we can’t experiment on them because they have our DNA” then educated individuals in the audience should appropriately laugh these individuals off the stage.
DNA does not a human make. We are more than our DNA, we are a combination of embryological conditions, biochemical and physiological stimuli, and developmental conditions interacting with other molecules to produce a human. Quit thinking of an organism in simple terms, DNA isn’t the organism, it is a part of the organism, providing the reactive templates for synthesis of other molecules and interacting with many highly variable signals in complex ways. While certain changes in the DNA can results in specific physiological changes in the organism, it is a result of the interactions that such a physiological condition arises. If the interactions change (read: restorative mutation) then the condition may be present with the original molecule rather than the “disease-state” molecule. Biology isn’t simple, making public policy decisions about scientific research should not be done while assuming a blatantly false, overly simplistic model. I’m all for informed debate, but this is why I do not debate many people. If someone asks questions, I will gladly point them in the right direction, if someone has an incorrect idea of biology and makes reasoning errors as a result, I will help. If someone wishes to argue and refuses to listen to my side because they are utterly convinced of this simplistic model, it is a waste of time.