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Podcast Review: Naked Genetics - All Human Life Is Here

23 January 2017
Appeared in BioNews 885

All Human Life Is Here

Naked Genetics, 14 December 2016

Presented by Dr Kat Arney

'All Human Life Is Here', Naked Genetics, Wednesday 14 December 2016

'We know so much about development of many other model organisms – fruit flies, worm – and we don't know much about development of our own embryos... This is all really a black box of development.'

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz of Cambridge University, the scientist who recently managed to keep human embryos alive for a record-breaking 13 days in the lab, was talking to Dr Kat Arney in a recent podcast episode 'All human life is here' by the The Naked Scientists.

Together with Sarah Norcross of the Progress Educational Trust, they discussed the current UK ban on researching human embryos in the lab for longer than 14 days.

While the interviews were fairly short, they were excellent summaries with decent explanations of the basics of embryology, the significance of embryological research, and the impact of the 14-day ban in embryo research.

Professor Zernicka-Goetz explained some of the science behind embryonic development and described how her team managed to keep embryos alive for 13 days outside the body of a mother. She also discussed the UK law that bans the growth of human embryos in the lab for more than 14 days, and how this law impacts on her research. Could her team's methods keep embryos alive for longer then 13 days in the lab? The team won't know just how long they can sustain a human embryo until the ban is lifted as they are required to destroy all embryos by the 14th day.

This interview concludes with the question: 'What are the potential benefits of changing the law to permit research on embryos for longer than 14 days?' According to Zernicka-Goetz, we know very little about basic human embryonic development, and being able to understand what makes embryos develop correctly or incorrectly could have significant implications for improving IVF or treating diseases that begin at this stage.

Because interview was only about four minutes long, this did not allow for much elaboration on points I would like to have heard more about – such as details on how embryonic research past 14 days could improve IVF or disease – but she provided a solid explanation of the significance of this research and why researchers are interested in working with embryos for longer than 14 days.

The second interview, with Sarah Norcross, focused on whether or not we should extend the 14-day rule for human embryo research.

Norcross outlined some of the ethical concerns related to extending the 14-rule, especially in tandem with the potential to experiment with genome editing in the UK. For example, would extending the 14-day rule be used to study embryonic development, or could it lead to experiments on human embryos involving genome editing? Would experiments be used therapeutically, or might it lead to human enhancements?

This discussion of ethical issues was brief, and focused on ethical issues that overlap with genome editing rather than with those pertaining strictly to embryological research (such as questions about the moral status of human embryos). But she elaborated on the question of what would actually be needed for such a change in law to come about. She argued that the public would have to be well informed on the topic, and scientists would have to provide strong arguments for why they wish to pursue this kind of research.

For me, this podcast was all too brief. The Naked Scientists included an interview with science writer and geneticist Adam Rutherford to discuss his new book, 'A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived', which covered discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology. 'Humans are much more complex than we thought they were,' observed Rutherford. 'We're even more complex in terms of our genome than we are in terms of our behaviour. And that's exciting.'

While this was an interesting topic on its own, it had little relevance that I could fathom to the discussion on embryology. Had the producers left it out, there would have been time for a slightly more in-depth discussion of human embryo research and the 14-day rule, which I would have welcomed. As it stands, the podcast is a worthwhile – if brief – introduction to the subject.

All human life is here
The Naked Scientists |  14 December 2016
22 January 2018 - by Dr Sam Sherratt 
Over the last few years we've seen a welcome explosion in the number of scientific podcasts aiming to spread the gospel about new research that may otherwise miss the attention of the mainstream media. With this in mind, I recently sat down to listen to an episode of Naked Genetics, a weekly podcast covering the 'latest genetics news and breakthroughs from the DNA world'...
30 January 2017 - by Sarah Gregory 
Matthew Hill covers the 30-year history of the 14-day rule on human embryo research, bringing the topic right up to the present day and the current debate on extending the rule...
23 January 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
The fourth session of the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research: Genome Editing, 14 Days and Beyond' delved into the new genome-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 and what it means for embryo research...
9 January 2017 - by Baroness Mary Warnock 
As the Progress Educational Trust's Patron, Baroness Mary Warnock, is made a Companion of Honour in the New Year Honours List 2017, she offers her thoughts on whether the 14-day limit on human embryo research (which she originally proposed in 1984) should be extended...
9 January 2017 - by Dr Valerie Shaikly 
The second session of the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research: Genome Editing, 14 Days and Beyond', looked at new embryo images that have potential to challenge the 14-day rule and discussed the potential benefits of extending the rule beyond the existing time limit...
19 December 2016 - by Dr Cathy Herbrand 
Baroness Mary Warnock was the first speaker at this year's Progress Educational Trust Annual Conference. She is best known for The Warnock report, which was written more than 30 years ago and has shaped legislation in the UK and around the world...
5 December 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
An extension to the 14-day human embryo research rule will be proposed at the annual Progress Educational Trust conference on 7 December...
24 October 2016 - by Anneesa Amjad 
In this podcast, Radiolab presenter Molly Webster explores the origins of the 14-day rule – the internationally agreed two-week time constraint on growing embryos in a lab...
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