Re: Media - UK: How to build a human

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 21:00:48 MST

At 02:28 PM 1/11/02 +0000, Fabio wrote:

>>We might actually be missing a lot of negative subtext simply by being
>>so happy about seeing "our" ideas expressed.
>You've got a point there... despite the program putting a very positive spin
>the potential of genetics (judging from the trailer, anyway...) I have
>already come across a disappointing comment in a UK newspaper, about the
>program: "fascinating and frightening..."

Last night I watched a BBC Horizon program, LIVING FOREVER, finally
broadcast two years late in Oz. Promos made it look very technophilic, and
in some respects it was. But despite some nice interviews with a few good
people like Dr Michael West, the narration

was full of errors, tiresome mumbo jumbo (`defying the laws of nature' blah
blah; funny how you don't hear that said any longer about wearing glasses
and catching a bus) and faux X-Files theme music. The material on telomeres
was highly misleading--our organs probably *don't* age because of telomere
degradation; hardly any chromosomes reach that point in vivo unless they
are in rapidly reproducing tumor cells or progeric kids. Lee Silver's
comments on evolution were misleading to the point of outright error. I
especially liked this typical idiocy:

>NARRATOR: So what would we gain by postponing death indefinitely?

[Me:] Uhh... I dunno... Uhhh... uhhh.... really, I just can't think of
*anything* to be said for not getting old and sick and then dying...

The only interesting element to me was a report on Dr Ellen Heber-Katz of
the Wistar Institute in Pennsylvania and her mutant regenerating mice which
I urled yesterday. Off to google to see why this hasn't become more famous
in the intervening two years or more since the program was made...

Ah, this from Nature in 1998:

        Understanding the genetic
            differences in the MRL/MpJ mice is the first step.

            The wound-healing ability is inherited, so when
            Heber-Katz and her colleagues allowed MRL/MpJ
            mice to breed with normal laboratory mice, the
            offspring inherited some healer ability, but the
            extent varied from individual to individual.

            The fewer genes involved, the fewer distinct
            groups of healer abilities should be seen in the
            offspring. In fact, the amount of variety in the
            offspring's healing powers suggested to the
            researchers that there were at least four genes in
            control. By measuring the extent to which the
            offspring inherited the healing trait and by finding
            'marker' genes that are inherited at the same time
            (suggesting the genes are close together), the
            researchers also managed to suggest where on the
            various chromosomes the healer genes were.

            They believe they have found gene locations on
            chromosomes 8, 12 and 15, with two regions on
            chromosome 13. There may even be another site
            on chromosome 7 - so there seem to be a possible
            six genes, rather than the predicted four. The
            genes are all inherited from the MRL parent except
            for one, which comes from the normal lab mice,
            but is presumable masked in some way by its
            other genes.

            What these 'healer' genes are, what they do, and
            how they are regulated, remains to be discovered,
            but it is clear that regenerative healing is no simple
            process. The genes may encode receptors, growth
            factors, and signalling chemicals - one likely
            candidate is a receptor for retinoic acid, a
            chemical which is important during development
            and skin growth.

            But one extremely interesting finding is that the
            candidate healer genes do not include any of the
            genes that cause the autoimmune profile of
            MRL/MpJ. Healing powers are not simply due to
            diminishing immune system activity.

            (C) Macmillan Magazines Ltd 1998 - NATURE NEWS

And she started this research in 1994, as reported in March 2001:

        [she] now devotes about
    80 percent of her time to mapping the
    gene loci that confer these unique
    regeneration properties and analyzing
    their patterns of expression. She hopes
    that her research on the “healer”
    mouse—as it was coined at
    Wistar—which exhibited full replacement
    of its epidermis, dermis and cartilage in
    three to four weeks following ear
    puncture, could be a boon to burn
    victims and might contribute to research
    on stem cells, wound healing, and
    cartilage and nerve regrowth. But that’s
    still a long way off. For now, Heber-Katz
    says, the leading question on her mind is,
    “Why are these mice able to do this and
    other mice are not?”

Good question!

Damien Boderick

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