Tag Archive | "United States"

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Chimeras for Transplant Organs and Third Parent Immunity

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Jerry

How you feel about something may be a function of how broadly you generalize or how narrowly you define it.  We have two scientific situations that specifically sound positive and yet generally may set disturbing precedents.  Each of us should decide how general we think we should be, what are the downsides and who determines outcomes.

In Japan there is a partial governmental ban on experiments that create chimeras, or mix human cells with cells of other animals to create cross species hybrids.  Creation of chimeras is permitted in vitro, a test tube or petri dish involving just cells, for up to fourteen days after which the resulting cells are destroyed.  No experiments are permitted in vivo, or with a whole living organism.

It is just such a whole living organism experiment that has been proposed by Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a stem cell biologist at the University of Tokyo.  He believes he can grow human organs in a pig fetus by implanting human pluripotent stem cells into a genetically engineered pig fetus that lacks a specific organ.

An article appearing in the June 28, 2013 issue of Science magazine states “Mouse experiments have shown that pluripotent cells can fill the developmental niche opened by the absence of an organ.”  Dr. Nakauchi believes he can eliminate the fear of organ rejection by using the recipient’s own pluripotent cells to be grown in the pig.  After the piglet is born, when the organ is the right size, it would be harvested and transplanted into the human being.

While having received a Japanese government ethics panel endorsement, Dr. Nakauchi will probably wait no longer.  He has just been awarded a $6.2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and is in discussions to open a new lab at Stanford University.  The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was formed when voters in the state approved a 2004 ballot proposition providing $3 billion of taxpayer funding for stem cell experimentation.

A different proposal has been approved for trial in the United Kingdom.  It involves a strategy for avoiding a baby inheriting mitochondrial disease from the genes of its biological mother.  The strategy is to merge the nucleus of an egg from the affected mother with the egg of another woman who has no genetic anomaly and then have the merged egg fertilized by the sperm of a man.  This would produce a baby that genetically has three parents but does not develop mitochondrial disease.

The worldwide controversy surrounding this experimental procedure is that it would allow the baby to pass on its altered genetic code to its eventual offspring.  This means the change created by the merged eggs constitutes genetic germline modification.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, in a July 17, 2013 issue of Nature magazine states “Were the United Kingdom to grant a regulatory (permanent) go-ahead, it would unilaterally cross a legal and ethical line on this issue that has been observed by the entire international community.  This consensus holds that genetic-engineering tools may be applied, with appropriate care and safeguards, to treat an individual’s medical condition, but should not be used to modify gametes or early embryos and so manipulate the characteristics of future children.”

In both of these cases the specifics, especially given the targeted outcomes, clearly offer benefit, if successful, for thousands of people.  Issues arise however, when what happens in the experiments is generalized to permit a host of other experiments with far less compelling outcomes or even risks of serious harm.

These experiments should cause each of us to personally consider what kind of genetic engineering should be allowed.  A series of questions come to mind.  For instance, should the applied science of genetic engineering continue to be largely unregulated?  Should exceptions be made and by whom?  Whom should we appoint to sit in judgment and make decisions for us?  How will those we appoint represent us faithfully and how will they know what we collectively think?  These scientific issues may have a profound effect on our collective future.  They deserve our personal attention.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or see original source documents:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6140/1509.sumary?sid=ad66cb5e-78e1-449d-936b-79d2d5e8e5a1

http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2013/03/u.k.-agency-cautiously-endorses-mitochondria-replacement

http://www.nature.com/news/a-slippery-slope-to-human-germline-modification-1.13358

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleno/34790/title/uk-may-allow-mitochondrial-replacement

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/05/chimera-monkeys-combining-several-embryo

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We Miss the Forest for the Trees on Nuclear Weapons

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Jerry

It is confusing for those of us who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  Where does each nation really stand on the issue?  They are not consistent and often do things that don’t match their rhetoric.  We are awash in detail listening to a cacophony of voices telling us all of the different things we should do.

Just think for a moment about how many people around the world derive livelihood and importance from the nuclear armaments; the diplomatic analysts, all branches of the military, strategists, manufacturers, professors, writers, politicians, etc., etc.  With all these different points of view and each special interest jockeying to be heard or get a piece of the action, it is any wonder it is confusing.  So hold this thought for we will come back to it.

Consider that the United States has consistently said it seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.  While other countries have, the U.S. has never said it will not be first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.  While they continue to negotiate reductions with Russia and are said to be in hard financial times, the U.S. government is seeking to increase its spending on its nuclear weapons development program to $7.9 billion.  This represents about 30% more than when President Obama first took office.

An article in the May 9, 2013 issue of Nature magazine observes that U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in a budget meeting pointed out the 2014 funding request for $7.9 billion was in real terms the same as the U.S. was spending at the height of the cold war in 1985 when it had 25,000 nuclear weapons, was designing new families of weapons and was conducting underground tests.  One of the major recipients of these funds is the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department).  Their stated position is it would not necessarily be cheaper just to maintain existing weapons.  This is their justification for their development of new warheads and weapons systems.

So which is it?  Will the U.S. be first to use nuclear weapons or not?  Does it want to lessen the threat of nuclear weapons by reducing and eliminating them or does it want to modernize and replace them?  Maybe this new funding is a ploy to encourage others to keep negotiating the weapons away and the money will not be spent to develop new weapons systems.  Maybe the U.S. will wind up with new secret weapons.  Maybe the strategy is all of the above.

Also perplexing is China.  China largely sidestepped the arms build-up of the cold war instead letting the USSR and U.S. face off alone.  Estimates by the Arms Control Association place the size of China’s nuclear arsenal at about 240 warheads compared to the estimated size of the U.S. arsenal of 5,113 nuclear warheads including tactical, strategic and non-deployed warheads.

In 1964, immediately after the Chinese test of their first nuclear weapon, China declared they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.  This explicit “no-first-use pledge” has been repeated in six successive government statements or white papers released over the last 50 or so years.

This year the Chinese white paper on defense, released in mid April, completely omits any reference to “no-first-use”.  The new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, elected this year, in his first speech to the Second Artillery Force, responsible for the China’s nuclear arsenal, again made no reference to the no-first-use policy.  Governments around the world assume this is not just a casual omission but signals a new aggressiveness from China.

Many would argue this is but another way for China to signal its significant concerns about the Obama 2011 decision to “pivot” and “rebalance” naval and marine resources towards the Pacific and Asia areas.  The stated U.S. objective is to change the 50:50 deployment of its resources between the Asian and European areas to a 60:40 split.  Or China’s reaction may represent an attempt to get more leverage in ongoing territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Or it has decided to just mimic the U.S. position.

There are many reasons the U.S. can give for its redeployment of resources.  Many would cite China’s annual 10% increase in its military spending (which includes new aircraft carriers), the existing U.S. relationships with South Korea and Japan, and threats emanating from North Korea as major factors.

The U.S. government would point out that two of its strongest allies in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea, are both technologically advanced and could develop nuclear weapons of their own in very short order if the U.S. did not restrain them.  It is incumbent on the U.S. to reassure these two allies that it will protect them from attacks by their bellicose neighbor, North Korea.

In the meantime, the bellicose neighbor has conducted their third confirmed nuclear test.  Their first test in 2006 had a yield of about 1 kiloton.  In 2009, their second test was in the six kiloton range.  This most recent test was thought to be as large as 10 kilotons and of much smaller design.  This miniaturization signals an objective to carry their weapons on long-range missiles.

Repeated threats from North Korea followed this test, asserting they were close to a nuclear war with the U.S. or South Korea or other unspecified countries in the South China Sea.  While it is clear North Korea is now a nuclear power, the world discounts its ability to send a missile with a nuclear warhead very far or with any accuracy.  The world also believes that North Korea really does not want a nuclear showdown and that its statements are just more belligerent puffery similar to what it has said numerous times since the Korean War.  The West generally believes that North Korea is trying to blackmail them into giving it various concessions and forms of aid.

The U.S. has responded to North Korean threats by redeploying a warship and a sea-based radar platform closer to the Korean coast.  In addition, it beefed up the anti-ballistic missile defenses deployed in Japan.  These steps were meant to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. remained their strategic partner.

In this post, we have only looked superficially at five countries; the U.S., China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan.  We have also examined only a small sampling of their many actions or interests.  Imagine how convoluted everything gets when everyone with any interest is included, when all of the nuclear powers are considered and when all the nuclear ‘wannabes’ are added.

The lesson to be drawn by people who want to eliminate nuclear weapons is that we cannot afford to be drawn into thinking about the issues by thrashing around in the detail and minutiae.  Without the minutiae how will everyone directly involved convince us they are necessary and productive?  It is they who create the minutiae. Without it they largely lose their importance and reason for being.

The lesson to be re-learned is an old one; we can’t afford to miss the forest by looking at the trees.  Those of us who want to eliminate nuclear weapons must keep our eye on the forest continuing to demand our politicians and governments redefine their role and value by finding a way to eliminate these weapons.  When enough of our voices are raised in this demand, simple as it is, they will pay attention and find a way.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/us-warheads-to-get-a-facelift-1.12948

http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nuclearweaponswhohaswhat

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/opinion/is-china-changing-its-position-on-nuclear-weapons.html

http://iissvoicesblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/us-pivot-to-asia-must-come-with-reassurances/

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1119363/chinas-navy-grows-end-dengs-dictum-keeping-low-profile

http://thediplomat.com/the-naval-diplomat/2013/03/07/what-to-make-of-chinas-defense-spending-increase/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/littoral_combat_ship

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6122/893.full?sid=3c1338ee-12f4-466e-9df476e981b17cc8

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/02/north-korea-tests-smaller-and-lighter-bomb.html

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Rising Heat, Decreasing Water

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Jerry

As a result of climate change supported by a consensus of the scientific community, extremely hot temperatures are being experienced more frequently around the world.  James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute in a recent report shared that extreme heat which used to strike about .02% of the world’s land area in any given summer now strikes about 10%.  The estimate is that within 10 years this will rise to 16.7%.

An article in the September 8, 2012 issue of Science News quotes John M. Wallace of the University of Washington as saying he sees a shift toward more extremely warm days and hotter extremes within those days.  He said there is good reason to believe global warming elevates extremes.

For a preview of areas of the world where water shortages will be significant by 2050 look at the accompanying chart which is reprinted from an article that appeared in Nature Magazine.  If you live in an area of the world where the human population is using water at a faster pace than it can be replenished you may need to follow the water and relocate to an area which still has a robust aquifer to support its population.  If you haven’t looked at the current technology and cost of desalinization, you may be in a place that will not be able to get water from the ocean.

At first glance, the surprise in the chart is the identity and number of areas with large ground water resources.  After some thought you may conclude the plentiful water supply correlates with relatively small human populations and/or areas which do not have large agricultural production and irrigation.  The authors of the article indicate the hyper water consuming nations are India, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico and the United States.

Focusing on just one of the areas of water shortage, an article in the February 8, 2013 issue of Science explores China’s worries about rising temperatures and the shrinking aquifer in the eastern rim of the North China Plain, China’s breadbasket.  In a country that already has 20% of the world’s population and only 7 percent of its arable land, which is shrinking due to urbanization, there is increasing demand for greater food consumption.  This added to rising temperatures which will further shorten the traditional growing seasons, will inevitably lead to lower crop yields. 

Northern China depends on the Yellow River and natural water table for irrigation.  Unfortunately, pollution of the river and diverting water for urban uses has caused the region to rely more heavily on its aquifer.  This has led to a steady shrinkage of available water as more water is consumed than can be replaced by rainfall.  The last four decades have seen the area use approximate 120 billion cubic meters more water than have been replenished in the aquifer. This coupled with rising sea levels in the traditional rice growing areas will put significant pressure on China to solve its water shortages and long term threats to its food supply.

After a few years of significant droughts in the United States, early signs from the nation’s snowpack show the droughts will continue.  With very light snow fall in the Rocky Mountains, the Western states reservoir water levels are still only half full.  This indicates the soil in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada is drier than normal once again.  In a New York Times article a Colorado farmer, Mike Hungenberg states “It’s approaching a critical situation.  A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full.  This year, you’re going in with basically everything empty.”

Some areas of the United States have benefited from a good winter snow which will ease their water shortages.  Some parts of Montana, Oregon, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri have reason for hope as a result of new rains and snows. Other areas are anticipating another year of drought.

Climate change leads to higher average temperatures which cause shrinking water supplies.  Increasing urbanization adds pressure on present aquifers.  The need to protect water supplies and/or plan for acquisition of water from other sources is a clear and present need for the areas affected.  We all should be mindful of what is causing this shortfall and what each of us needs to do to help fix it.  We should all embrace actions which conserve water even in areas where it is plentiful.

For additional information use the following links:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/342823/description/extreme_hot_spells_rising

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7410/full/nature11295.html  

http://www.nature.com/news/demand-for-water-outstrips-supply-1.11143

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6120/644.summary?sid=183e5277-6810-4ce1-aa13-9c8c09bb8086

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/us/in-drought-stricken-heartland-snow-is-no-savior.html

 

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Your Intervention to Protect the Arctic

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Jerry

Ice is melting in the Arctic and as a result it is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.  Sea lanes are opening up for longer periods in the year prompting attention from nations seeking to exploit the Arctic’s underwater oil, gas, and mineral resources.  Unlike Antarctica, which is protected by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the only protection for the North Pole is that it is defined in international treaties as the high seas.  Unfortunately several countries are attempting to enforce territorial boundaries and actively lay claim to the seabed.  This includes Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States, all of which lay claim to various parts of the Arctic.

Examples of the attention the Arctic is receiving include recent military war games, Exercise Cold Response, hosted by Norway involving 16,300 troops from 14 countries.  The exercise involved “training on the ice for everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats…. The U.S., Canada and Denmark held their own major exercises and hosted a meeting of the military chiefs of the eight main Arctic powers – Canada, the U.S., Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.” 

A June 2, 2012 Reuters article reports on a recent visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating, “Clinton boarded a research ship in Tromso, a Norwegian town north of the Arctic Circle, to illustrate U.S. interests in a once inaccessible region where resources are up for grabs and new sea routes between Europe and Asia are opening up.  ‘A lot of countries are looking at what will be the potential for exploration and extraction of natural resources as well as new sea lanes,’ Clinton told reporters after taking a two-hour boat tour of the local fjord.”

Recognizing that this type of attention and development can only accelerate the melting of the sea ice and further contribute to global warming, Greenpeace has marshaled celebrities and citizens from around the world calling for the Arctic to be designated a drill free reserve where all plant and animal species are protected.  This would put it on a similar footing as Antarctica.

Greenpeace has launched an effort to get 1,000,000 signatures on-line on a petition to be circulated around the world and planted at the North Pole to encourage nations to step up and protect the Arctic.  You can participate, if you hurry, by adding your name to the petition at www.savethearctic.org

You will be in good company joining other signers who include Sir Paul McCartney, Jack White, Penelope Cruz, Robert Redford, Edward Norton, Sir Richard Branson, and Lucy Lawless.  Other signers include Radiohead, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Emily Blunt, Baaba Maal, Javier Bardem, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, and a group of China’s most famous musicians.  You can be amongst the nine Oscar winners, ten Golden Globe winners and five Grammy Award winners who are signers of the petition.

This kind of direct action, while symbolic, represents your desire to keep countries and companies from exploiting and accelerating the very global warming they have created.  Adding your name to this petition is a small step to slow an accelerating problem.

Use the following links to find more information on these issues:

http://news.yahoo.com/ice-cap-melts-militaries-vie-arctic-edge-072343565.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/03/us-arctic-clinton-idUSBRE8510CQ20120603

http://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/antarct/anttrty.jsp

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center/news-releases/GLOBAL-STARS-LAUNCH-CAMPAIGN-TO-SAVE-THE-ARCTIC/

http://www.savethearctic.org

http://www.webpronews.com/jude-law-and-radiohead-lend-their-voices-to-save-polar-bears-2012-07

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