"A word in earnest is as good as a speech"
~Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Monday, April 1, 2013

Medical Monday: Zombie Cells ..... Hmmmmm


ZOMBIE CELL, first stage -- only moderately heated, the cell is now pure silica and needed a gold coating for a scanning electron microscope to image it.

I am not at all going to pretend I know what any of this means. I have read the article several times and all I can come up with is that scientists have figured out how to take a cell - kill it and heat to get rid of all the protein and they get a shell that can survive almost anything. They can then use this shell as a base for other nanotechnologies (but don't take my word for it, I could be completely wrong).
So why am I writing a blog about something I am not even sure I understand .... because it is creepy and kind of scary. And of course the word "zombie" piqued my interest (have I told you I am obsessed with The Walking Dead).
But it led me to ask the question, what is it for and when does it stop? The article in the Huffington Post indicated that these cells can be used for things like fuel cells or sensors that we now build from metal and "old-fashioned" technologies. It also stated that these dead cells can perform in a lot of the tests better than the cells did when they were alive. Great you think, ok let me put out some other observations.
My curiosity led me to start thinking about stem cell research. According to the National Institute of Health stem cells are unspecific cells that can be used as repair cells because they can become specific and in many cases reproduce without limit - even after extensive periods of inactivity.
Stem cells can be helpful for patients that deal with some very debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. At first you want to say fabulous let's get more of that kind of research - let's save lives. It is really hard for me as someone with a chronic disease to say what a lot of people don't want to hear, maybe these diseases are just part of the natural selection process - should we be playing God? Or is it part of the natural selection process that we as a species are smart enough to be able to come up with the technologies to cure anything that ails us?
Then I started thinking about cloning - I was stuck by the fact that the first cloned animal was a tadpole in 1952. I was also kind of horrified that the information stated that hundreds of cloned animals are in existence today, and that 2001 they successfully used harvested eggs to clone skin cells (using the eggs as one would a stem cell - they removed the eggs DNA and then added the skin cell DNA - it was only minimally successful).
The other thing that troubled me about cloning was the statement "cloned animals tend to have more compromised immune function and higher rates of infection, tumor growth, and other disorders."
So all of this information overloaded my brain ... but I decided to keep looking and I came across the issue of Genetically Modified Foods. This began as a political query after information on a bill President Obama signed into law last week: the so-called Monsanto Protection Act came to my attention. But what is genetically modified food and genetically engineered seed? These are organisms whose DNA has been altered to carry certain characteristics or traits - being insect resistant or having certain nutrients or being resistant to viruses that can wipe out a crop or genetically engineered salmon that grow faster. According to one article they are making bananas that can carry vaccines for things like hepatitis B.
I took all this information in and then went back to the word that started all this medical overwhelmingness .... zombie. I would like to state for the record I do not really think that the zombie apocalypse is in our foreseeable future. Having said that .... after my reading for this blog I may start hoarding water and putting together the items suggested by the Zombie Research Society (yes you read that correctly).
So my questions remain ... should we be doing all these things and what are the consequences of our actions? Will we create a race of humans resistant to death? Will we create food that we eat from a petri dish? And what are the ethical implications - do we begin cloning people based on only the traits we think are "fashionable" at the time? And what impact does this ability to stave off death as long as possible have on the concept of natural evolution? This is no longer the stuff of science fiction - it is the stuff of science. When will we know when enough is enough - or do we need a natural reset to let us know?
I will end as I started (and as I have stated before) - I do not pretend to completely understand all the things mentioned in this blog. I do not claim to be educated enough about the subject to know all the pros and cons or even enough to be able to make a logical argument about whether or not I am for or against some of these technologies. But I just wanted to pose the questions ... and hope that there is someone out there that can answer them before it is too late.


  1. I, too, could not pretend to understand all that you write here but your question is pertinent and important.

    However, (and I mean this seriously) the really frightening things is that in order to consider and maybe answer some of the issues implicit in your question we enter the world of ethics, morals and maybe even religious belief. And for me, much of modern society (certainly in the UK and I suspect in the USA) does not want to really bother with such abstractions or such "old fashioned" and "boring" things. Sadly, this situation is ably abetted by big business, much of the media and, sadly, government who do not take too kindly to their view of the world or their desires to make a fast buck, to influence opinion or to retain power being questioned by those with an interest in the ethical and moral foundations of society and its actions - ethics and morals are uneasy bed fellows with big business, Rupert Murdoch or governments in thrall to the power of money.
    Sorry to have such a despondent view of the world - but I genuinely, and increasingly, believe and fear that we are all (in advanced western societies) on a bit of a downward spiral because we are reluctant to ask and then strive to take the hard decisions taken in answering the sort of questions that you highlight here. The decisions that might have to be taken are not what Joe Public or Wall Street could live with!

    1. Hello,
      Never be sorry! As I observe the world I am beginning to think myself a bit old-fashioned. Growing up I had a very strong sense of right and wrong and I just do not see either that moral compass or the work ethic that I grew up with in today's culture or media or government. It saddens me. Which is why I like to pepper my normal frustrated view of the world with some happy observations as well!