Last week, Biopolitical Times showed that when it comes to sensationalizing genetic science, researchers sometimes bear greater responsibility than the much-maligned media. Coincidentally, that post was published the same day that science writer Carl Zimmer deflated a ballyhooed report by NASA scientists about an entirely new form of life, a bacterium based on arsenic instead of phosphorus.
More and more often, it seems, the white-coats are burying their caveats and waving tempting tidbits - often about sex - under the noses of headline writers and science reporters.
Current case in point: A research team centered at the University of Texas published a paper announcing they had created baby mice with genetic material from two males, and no female. Their method involved cell reprogramming and induced pluripotent stem cells, genetic manipulation, the production of chimeric animals, and two generations.
Next stop, kids with genes from both gay partners, right?
Given the weird and complicated suite of biological tricks the researchers used, not to mention the obvious fact that such biologically extreme measures would pose enormous risks to any resulting children, you'd think the scientists would be at pains to distance themselves from that kind of hype.
Not so. To be sure, they uttered the requisite hedge phrases: Their method "still requires significant refinements prior to their use for therapeutic purposes," they said in their press release. But the press statement also included this bait for sensational coverage:
"In the future, it may also be possible to generate human oocytes from male iPS cells in vitro. Used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization, this would eliminate the need for female XO/XX chimeras, although a surrogate mother would still be needed to carry the two-father pregnancy to term."
And in the abstract of their article in the peer-reviewed journal Biology of Reproduction, the researchers announced:
"These findings have novel implications for mammalian reproduction and assisted reproductive technology."
Many of the articles about the experiment, in daily newspapers and blogs alike, made it very clear that applying the suite of complicated techniques to human beings would be a very bad idea. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, for example, Gautam Naik acknowledged the hype and punctured it right up near the top of his story.
"While the achievement is technically intriguing," he wrote, "its practical benefits are far from clear. Any move to try the same experiment in people is certain to be more complicated and controversial."
Yes, it's a new world, with journalists cultivating nuance and caution, and scientists tantalizing headline writers with weird biotechnological tricks.
Previously on Biopolitical Times
Posted in Animal Technologies, Assisted Reproduction, Hybrids & Chimeras, LGBTQI, Marcy Darnovsky's Blog Posts, Media Coverage
CommentsAdd a Comment
Comment by Greg Aharonian, Dec 17th, 2010 10:03am
There is actually a long history of research into samesex reproduction, including the successful development of female chicken sperm in 1997 (the highest lifeform so far). Some of the first work for humans dates back to the sperm research of Ralph Brinster at the University of Pennsylvania. A history of this research is available at: www.samesexprocreation.com/timeline.htm