New Kono experiments on fatherless mice

Professor Tomohiro Kono, from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, has published some new reports on his research on fatherless mice created from two mothers. He was the creator of the mouse "Kaguya", the first mammal with same-sex parents, in 2004, which prompted me to create this blog. Well, he's apparently continued working on making fatherless mice, and his new findings, published last week in the science journal Human Reproduction, "provide the first evidence that sperm genes may have a detrimental effect on lifespan in mammals", leading to lots of "End of Males?" articles in the British press like this one in the Daily Mail.
'We have known for some time that women tend to live longer than men in almost all countries worldwide,' said Professor Kono.

'However, the reason for this difference was unclear and, in particular, it was not known whether longevity in mammals was controlled by the genome composition of only one or both parents.

He said the fatherless mice were essential to the research. The genetic material taken from eggs collected from young mice was manipulated in the laboratory so the genes behaved like sperm genes.

This manipulated genetic material was transplanted into fully grown, unfertilised eggs of adult mice and they developed into embryos, which were transferred into surrogate mother mice.

The mice born as a result were bimaternal, having genetic material from two mothers, but no father, and their lifespan was compared with identical mice with both father and mother.

But does the study suggest that getting rid of fathers could maximise the longevity of human beings?

Professor Kono was unequivocal. 'This is not realistic,' he said.

Interestingly, no one questions whether it should even be allowed to try to do experiments like that to create human children. The article just assumes that it is only a question of can it be done, not whether it should be legal. We don't need to do any more research to know that it shouldn't be allowed to try to create humans from stem cell derived artificial gametes for two people of the same sex.


"ax" admits SSP is core demand at Opine-Editorials

I came across a good discussion happening at Opine-Editorials, where a new commenter named "ax" had just jumped into the blogger-collective's sparring ring. After three days of discussion with Chairm, On Lawn, and the Playful Walrus, I joined the discussion and turned "ax" to the issue of same-sex procreation. His first response is a pretty good summary of his argument:
Dude, you're crazy.

But hey, if two men or two women want to conceive a child together, I'm fine with that.
I then proceed to tell him many reasons why it should not be allowed, why it would be better for society if we banned it, etc etc, and I'm answering every objection, rejecting every deflection, and ax is cornered, unable to answer the decisive question On Lawn and I teamed up to ask that would have established "the core of marriage" - whether procreation rights were essential for marriage. And, he's callously refusing to see the difference between choosing a risky medicine to treat one's own disease, and choosing purposeful risky creation of other people. It was a very good discussion with ax, he was very revealing and open about how of course same-sex couples have a right to procreate together!

But On Lawn at Opine has ended the discussion there before ax replied, and deleted my "last word" calling him out for not living up to the the goals of his blog. But luckily I still had the thread open in another tab, and was able to save the post with my last comment intact before more of my comments were deleted. I've copied it here for reference, and I will mark any edits and additional comments in bold. The original is here.


Great new website on Transhumanism

Check out these YouTube videos someone put together about Postgenderism. There are three parts, so I'll embed the Pt 1 here and let you find Pt 2 and Pt 3 yourself. They're from a website called www.TransAlchemy.com which seems to have lots more articles and videos skeptical of Transhumanism and Postgenderism. For example, the video pointed me to an article about artificial wombs by Colleen Carlson in Harvard Science Review, Fall 2008:
So why has relatively little attention been paid to research that could lead to a major change in reproductive capacity? In fact, much work goes unpublished because of the uproar it might create among activists, politicians, and religious figures for its social implications.
That's what I've been saying! (For the record, I would support banning artificial wombs also, they're inhumane and unnecessary, and instead work to preserve everyone's health and fertility)


John Howard for United States Senate

That's right, I want to be elected to replace Ted Kennedy as the next Senator from Massachusetts, in order to introduce the Egg and Sperm Civil Union Compromise bill to end same-sex marriage nationally, preserve natural conception rights, stop the Brave New World of genetic engineering, and to extend federal recognition as marriages to same-sex couples in state Civil Unions, and provide a model for achieving full protections for same-sex couples in all 50 states.

I have two giant stacks of nomination papers that I need to fill up with signatures, and about two months to do it. I'm obviously going to need help, so I am going to contact the Vote On Marriage people and MassEquality people to seek their support and manpower to achieve the goals of each via the Egg and Sperm Civil Union Compromise.

On January 19th, 2010, please vote to send me, John Howard, to the Senate to resolve the marriage debate so we all can move on to other pressing issues.


Good article explaining epigenetic imprinting

Scientific American has a nice article explaining epigenetic imprinting that should help people understand genetics a little better. Lots of people, even scientists, believe that the genes in a sperm and the genes in an egg are interchangable. As the article points out, Gregor Mendel's Laws of Inheritance assumed that it didn't matter which parent passed on which genes, and that incorrect assumption is strongly ingrained in the public's mind to this day. But now we are realizing that men and women have complementary genes.
When passing on DNA to their offspring, mothers silence certain genes, and fathers silence others. These imprinted genes usually result in a balanced, healthy brain, but when the process goes awry, neurological disorders can result.
When eggs and sperm are created by the process of meiosis in the gonads, two are created at a time by a stem cell that splits in two, dividing its pairs into two sets of single chromosomes randomly. Each gamete gets one chromosome from each of the 23 pairs, creating "haploid" cells from a "diploid" cell. Which single chromosome of each pair that each gamete gets, either from the mother or father, is random. In a man creating sperm cells, the original imprinting is stripped off of the genes that came from his mother, and new male imprinting is applied, so that it is ready to join with an egg. In a woman, the opposite happens, female imprinting is applied to the chromosomes she inherited from her father and she passes on female imprinted genes.

Another new discovery is that the DNA in a sperm is more tightly packed than in an egg, with a small portion of the gene left "open":
But sperm don't have elaborate cells, just a tightly packed nucleus and a tail for swimming to the egg. So when they form, the histones are stripped off and replaced with another molecule called protamine, which shapes the DNA into an even tighter bundle, where the genes cannot be read. The British researchers have found, however, that CTCF protects some histones in sperm from being replaced, leaving about 4 per cent of the genome in an open conformation, so that its instructions can be copied. Since the pattern of exposed areas is not random, they believe it must have a purpose, and the simplest explanation is that it is a key that influences the developing embryo even before the father's genetic contribution has been unpacked.
Both of these recent discoveries are setbacks for same-sex conception, in that they show that reversing a person's imprinting is much more complex than anyone understands. But more than just being setbacks, they really show that it would be unethical to attempt to create sperm for a woman or an egg for a man for procreation.


ABC Nightline: A World Without Men

Last night Nightline aired this report on the sperm-from-stem-cell news:

A World Without Men? Scientists create human sperm from stem cells. Will men soon be irrelevant?

I'm glad they aren't shy about focusing more on the same-sex conception angle rather than the infertility angle, as some stories did. But I wish they weren't so sensationalistic and jocular about it, as if the only issue was just male insecurity and silly worries about men no longer existing. They should have addressed the costs and implications of allowing same-sex conception and not implied the only issue was who would take out the trash. And they shouldn't have treated it as inevitable. That's especially disappointing because in England, where this report seems to have been produced, same-sex conception and genetic engineering are already prohibited, and Parliament is debating whether to change the ban to allow the use of stem cell derived gametes, and it looks like they will allow it for infertility but not same-sex conception. They could have been informative, instead of trying to make an entertaining Doctor Who episode (which is impossible, but I digress). Oh well.

But it's still a very provocative report that should get people talking, and it's great to see this story is finally breaking through the media blackout and starting to reach the American public.


My reading of Eisenstadt v Baird

I find myself repeatedly discussing certain Supreme Court cases with lots of people around the blogosphere, and as they are often tangential to the point I'm making about stopping genetic engineering (not to mention even further off-topic to the thread I'm hijacking as it is), I thought maybe I should devote a blog post here to them, and just direct people to this post when they bring them up.

Eisenstadt v Baird is currently being touted by the commenter Carlo as declaring a right to have children outside of marriage in a long comment thread over at Opine Editorials. He cites the oft-cited passage that at first blush does seem to find such a right:
It is true that in Griswold the right of privacy in question inhered in the marital relationship.... If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free of unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.
Even though unmarried conception is irrelevant to my point about protecting conception rights within marriage, I think it is important to defend against the common idea that Eisenstadt declared a right for single people to bear children, and so struck down fornication laws in 1972.

Eisenstadt was about contraception, and I read it as saying that unmarried people have a right to use contraception to protect themselves from bearing or begetting a child, in case they lose self-control and make a regrettable spontaneous decision to have sex, or are raped. But I don't see it as saying that there is a right to have unmarried sex. Even that quote doesn't go so far as to say that single people have a right to actually bear a child - it only says that single people have a right to decide to bear a child, and presumably if they decide to, then they would go get married. It could have been written "matters so fundamentally affecting a person as bearing or begetting a child", but they added the words "the decision whether to", and opinions are carefully written, they don't add words just to conform to Iambic pentameter.

An analogy works pretty well here: a person without a motorcycle license has a right to decide whether or not to ride a motorcycle, right? But if they decide to, they either have to get a license, or risk getting caught and punished for riding without a license. The analogy to Eisenstadt would be that unlicensed riders have a right to wear helmets, states can't prohibited selling helmets to unlicensed people. Allowing unlicensed people to buy helmets doesn't endorse unlicensed riding, but it recognizes that prohibiting people access to helmets only puts them at greater risk if they ride anyway. The analogy seems strained because spontaneously riding a motorcycle is not as common a thing as "accidentally" going from making out to having intercourse in the heat of passion. What the court recognized was that respectable people DO sometimes have premarital sex (perhaps their own lovely daughters with their no-good boyfriends) and they should be allowed to protect themselves from rash passionate mistakes, or no-good boyfriends.

Also, note they allow for warranted government intrusion, and note that actually bearing and begetting a child is certainly NOT something that could be called "private", as a child is certainly a matter of public record, indeed a member of the public itself. So they would have to be out of their minds to think that bearing a child was a private matter - and clearly that's not what they were thinking. They were only thinking that unmarried people should have a right to protect themselves from pregnancy. I'd agree with that decision, but its a shame that they couldn't see that it would lead to more unmarried sex and therefore more unmarried pregnancies. Perhaps they thought that would be OK, what with new accurate paternity tests, etc.
Supporting my reading that they didn't strike down fornication laws in Eisenstadt is the fact that the court relied on Wisconsin's fornication law two years later to reach their decision in Zablocki v Redhail. And at the time of Eisenstadt, the case wasn't interpreted as striking down fornication laws or making unmarried sex legal, it was merely reported as being about access to contraception for unmarried people. It may seem like a hedge, but it's a legal distinction that is quite common, coming up in cases where property owners set lethal booby traps for robbers, and drug dealers sell lethal drugs to addicts - it shows that addicts and robbers have rights too, but those rights don't create a right to do drugs or rob.


Love Makes A Family shuts down

Well, this is interesting: Love Makes A Family is apparently not enough any more, as the Connecticut organization is shutting down at the end of the year. They say it is because they've achieved their objectives (Connecticut now has same-sex marriage), but I think it is because their name and message are no longer in agreement with the new goals of the marriage equality movement. I have often reminded same-sex marriage advocates who were demanding same-sex conception rights that "love makes a family", and that same-sex couples do not need to be both biologically related to have a loving and close family. But of course my point was not appreciated, and it was clear that "Love Makes A Family" was an embarrassing anachronism contrary to the new goal of full equal marriage and conception rights. This action seems to prove it. I continue to believe that Love Makes A Family, but apparently they don't believe it anymore.


Blankenhorn & Rauch's compromise is useless and unworkable

Ugh, what a flawed compromise Blankenhorn and Rauch came up with. It's a good premise, that we ought to work out a compromise based on some sort of principle, but that one is wildly off the mark. It suggests that churches exist outside the law and are opposed to civil authority, when in fact most religions consider civil authority to be God-given and teach that it should be respected. And practically speaking, how can a church not recognize a same-sex marriage or civil union? Most states have laws against knowingly officiating bigamist and other civilly-invalid marriages. A priest or minister would be punished for marrying a man and a woman if the woman was officially civilly unioned to another woman at the time, so they couldn't just ignore it, they'd have to recognize it. The compromise won't work.

Their compromise led Fitz at Opine Editorials to ask the question everyone is struggling with: “Why should couples of any kind receive special treatment from the government?” Well, why? Isn't it because we should give special treatment to couples that might conceive children together? Of course it is. We never give that special treatment to couples that we forbid from conceiving together, like siblings or people already married or children. We only give it to couples that society approves of procreating together, on the condition of them affirming their consent to procreate with each other and committing to each other as procreating partners.

What do Blankenhorn and Rauch say about whether or not to allow same-sex couples to attempt to conceive together? Blankenhorn has already in his book said that marriage is, anthropologically, defined as societal approval of procreation. And, that we should only allow procreation by a man and a woman. So it's a shame he didn't suggest that as the basis of the compromise with Rauch, instead of this useless "religious exemption" that is not only irrelevant to the real issues facing us as a society in the near future, but won't work because civil law is respected by the church and the state law applies within churches. It's outrageous to suggest that churches become outlaws.

The right compromise is to recognize state civil unions that are defined as identical to marriage with the sole exception of prohibiting, rather than protecting, procreation between the couple. Churches would have to recognize them, but they certainly wouldn't recognize them as marriages, because they wouldn't civilly BE marriages. In the situation described above, where a man and woman wanted to marry but one was in a same-sex civil union, they'd have to respect the law that says that this person has entered a civil agreement not to marry anyone while they are in this civil union, just like they'd have to (and want to) respect the civil law about siblings, and about people in secular marriages that wouldn't be performed by the church, or who are already married to someone who abandoned them. Churches tell couples in those situations that they have to respect the civil law, so they have to get a civil divorce or annulment before the church can officiate their wedding, even if the church doesn't believe the existing civil marriage to be a "sacred" or "real" marriage. That's what they'd have to tell a couple where one was in a same-sex civil union. They can't ignore the legal reality, but they wouldn't be forced to recognize any same-sex marriages, because there wouldn't be any. No same-sex couple would have conception rights.

It's a much better compromise, and it should be the compromise that Congress considers, because Congress also needs to prohibit genetic engineering and same-sex conception and making a baby any way other than joining a man and a woman's unmodified gametes.

What will happen if we enact their proposed compromise, and leave same-sex conception legal? Is a church supposed to "not recognize" the very existence of people created through same-sex conception? That's ridiculous.


For the record...

For the record, my post on BMG that LGBT posters forced the editors to delete was about how there is indeed an unchanging constant element to marriage throughout history. I said that I'd read both Stephanie Koontz's and David Blankenhorn's recent histories of marriage specifically looking for any mention of marriages that did not have a right to conceive children together, and found none, zero. Every marriage, everywhere, had a right to have sex and conceive children together, using their own genes. There was a lead-in about how both sides of the debate bring up the same debunked points over and over again, and I mentioned how people sometimes try to prove me wrong by bringing up those infertile-cousin marriages and incarcerated prisoner marriages, but in neither case is the couple prohibited from conceiving children. That was pretty much the whole comment, it didn't even mention the issue of same-sex conception.