Friday, October 10, 2008

What is Scientifically Possible is Not For That Reason Alone Morally Acceptable

There has been much concern in recent blog posts regarding the genetic manipulation of rats. They are of great interest to geneticists because they are vertebrate mammals, have a mapped and easily manipulated genome, and generation to generation is a rather short amount time. Some class members have been horrified by an experiment that highlighted the removal of a “fear” gene. Experiments like this are done to study the genetic workings of an excellent model organism for humans. Rats are the subject of genetic manipulation in laboratories all over the world for the purpose of understanding genetic pathways of interest. There is no scientific theory that says that which can be done to rats cannot be done to humans, so genes are manipulated in rats for the purpose of studying human diseases and understanding human genetic pathways.

Recent novel research in genetically engineered mice may lead to improved means of treating type 2 diabetes. Transgenic mice with an over-expression of the human gene GSK3β were created and a large increase in diabetic characteristics resulted in the mice at five months of age. A decreased beta cell mass and decreased beta cell proliferation was observed in the experiment of these mice who had difficulty tolerating and processing glucose. The experiment showed that GSK3β has direct correlation with beta cell impairment and death in model mice. This can eventually lead to improved understanding and treatment of type 2 diabetes in humans.

The notable thing about these mice is that a human gene was introduced into their genome. Removing a “fear” gene from mice is perhaps unethical, but what about injecting a human gene into the mice genome? Amazing and terrible things have been done to mice in the name of science, but research like this is necessary to understanding and finding a cure to tragic human genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Huntington’s disease, and the second leading cause of death throughout the world: cancer. Manipulating the genomes of a model organism is important for the progression of medical science, even if they push beyond the limits of people’s ethical acceptability.

Posted by Jordan Grinstein


At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. Some of the things that they do may be a bit unethical, but you feed animals mice that were purposely killed for them. What's the big difference. These lab mice do not have long life spans and if it wasn't for mice we would not have been able to find out a lot of stuff that has helped humans lives. Would you rather them experiment on you? I doubt not. Maybe I am just desensitized to this.

Katie Cole

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What criteria are you using for what constitutes cruelty? And in what cases does the benefit outweigh the moral dilemma? I was also a little confused on the note of splicing part of the human genome into mouse DNA. Was this supposed to be an example of cruelty or just an interesting scientific note?.

Alex Jackson

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you that without research on mice we wouldnt be able to find cures to a lot of diseases out there. but i do think that there should be some limits to animal cruelty, rules that researches have to follow to keep the pain inflicted to the animal to the minimal...

- Brena Sena

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Dan said...

As unfortunate as it may be for the mice, these researches and experiments really have helped improve our lives as well as life expectancy. There won't be much of an option until we find an alternative to experimenting on these little fuzzballs.

~Dan Hong

At 8:55 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Great post. Arguing ethics is a tough subject. There are many ways to look at it, but I agree with your opinion. Mice are model organisms, and without them, science would most defiantly not be as far a long as it is currently in the pharmaceutical industry, cancer research, etc. It may be unethical to some to genetically alter mice, but I think genetically altering humans can be accepted as unethical by most (does anyone foresee X-men in our future?) Testing on cats and dogs wouldn't go over well, because we have domesticated these animals as pets. Do you think there are any other model species that we could use? Would it cause more or less controversy? Thank you for your post :).

Posted by: Amanda Sceusa

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of research topics in my research classes was about obesity and diabetes. I found out that inheritable ENPP1 Gene caused malfunction of glucose metabolism. I also found out that there are some relationships of ENPP1 gene to diabetes, but not exactly what. It will be interesting to see how they are related.

Posted by: Yi, Jeongsang

At 10:53 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Interesting article. I agree that mice are important organisms for research. We can learn so much from trial and error. However, splicing genes from humans and inserting them into the genome of mice is a bit extreme. If it benefits us for curing disease and disorders I believe that mice are great subjects to experiment with.

-Carlos Varela

At 11:02 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I think that as long as scientists aren't purposely causing pain for their entertainment and they are doing it to attempt to better their knowledge of how humans function with certain diseases, then it isn't too cruel. It's true that there have been a lot of crazy experiments done on mice and rats but there are so many benefits to the research and mice have very high populations. The blog raised a good topic but I felt the middle paragraph used too many scientific terms that the general public wouldn't understand.

Ashley Maillet

At 2:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally I would like to know what the safety precautions are for conducting experiments like this "fear" gene removal. I don't mind the tampering, because I dislike rats, but I don't want them breeding and possibly escaping to breed with "normal" rats. The thought of fearless rats scares me and is quite unwanted and dangerous. Rats are sneeky and clever thinkers with fear, without it they won't care if they could be stopped, and that's a type of unnecessary chaos in itself.

Ada Marie Flores (4)

At 11:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) has all sorts of regulations and restrictions to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals used in a laboratory environment. I might be desensitized as well, but I think that using mice and rats for science is justified. I work in an aquatic toxicology lab on campus that requires me to kill the fish. There are certain procedures and classes you have to take to be allowed to work with animals, and I have to anesthetize the fish before killing them. Some people will argue that fish don't even have feelings, so I'm sure that when mammals are used in studies just as much thought is put into causing the least amount of pain and suffering as possible. Although, some studies do seem cruel, it is usually for the greater good of scientific discovery, but that's just my opinion.

Rachel Carboni


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