More Proof Life Begins at Conception
New findings about activity in the zygote
should influence discussions about abortion
For years, abortion advocates and those wishing to experiment on human embryos have claimed that nothing really happens until a zygote divides four times into eight cells. New findings from the UK disprove that assumption.
Far Sooner than Previously Thought
Genes are switched on in the human embryo from the get-go (University of Bath). This article says nothing about abortion or the ethics of experimenting on human embryos, but its findings are highly relevant to those discussions. The subtitle of the press release says, “Scientists have discovered that genes in human embryos rapidly become active after fertilisation, opening a new window onto the start of human embryonic life.”
The finding that some genes are active from the get-go challenges the textbook view that genes don’t become active in human embryos until they are made up of four-to-eight cells, two or three days after fertilisation.
The newly discovered activity begins at the one-cell stage – far sooner than previously thought – promising to change the way we think about our developmental origins.
And how should “we think about our developmental origins”? It appears obvious that we should think that a new individual life has begun as soon as the gametes have united. There is a slight delay before the male and female chromosomes start producing transcripts, but the sperm and egg come complete with some of the transcripts they need to use immediately.
Wake up: Switch On: Activate
The process of switching on activity in a zygote is called gene activation or “genome awakening.” It starts in the zygote, not several cell divisions later. A multitude of genes are switched on before the first cell division.
Using a method called RNA-sequencing, the team applied precision analysis to individual human eggs and one-cell embryos to make a detailed inventory of tell-tale products of gene activity, called RNA transcripts. It revealed that hundreds of genes awaken in human one-cell embryos. Because the gene activity starts small, previous techniques had not been sensitive enough to detect it. But state-of-the art RNA-sequencing used in this study was able to reveal even small changes.
Genome awakening is essential; without it, the development of the embryo would fail. It appears that some genes do, indeed, switch on at the 8-cell stage, but that is now being interpreted as a “second shift” of genome awakening. The first shift starts in the zygote. Researchers found some genes switching on that “might be expected to play roles in early embryos,” but others were unknown. It looks like a “fertile” area for discovery.
At the moment of human fertilisation, sperm and egg genomes – the collection of all of their genes – are inactive: the sperm and egg rely on transcripts produced when they were being formed for instructions that regulate their characteristics.
Transcripts provide essential instructions in all cells, and embryo cells are no exception. This means that it is essential for parental (sperm and egg) genomes to awaken in the new embryo. But when and how does this happen?
Further research will be needed to see how this happens: e.g., the egg might provide the master switch, or something else. What became clear from this study is important: “Genes are switched on in the human embryo from the get-go” – and that this “happens rapidly after fertilization.” The fireworks ignite (1 Sept 2021), and the show is on!
The impact of this finding is two-fold: (1) It removes an assumption that a human embryo is not really an individual before several cell divisions. If the combined genes of the two parents are awakened and activated “from the get-go,” then a new individual life has begun. Unless interrupted, that unique individual life will continue developing to birth. There is no point after conception, therefore, when an abortionist can say that life begins. (2) It removes one of the arguments for use of embryonic stem cells. Some have argued that the individual does not begin to take shape until the blastocyst stage, so it is OK to retrieve embryonic cells before that. No; these findings show that the “first shift” of genome awakening begins rapidly after fertilization before the first cell division.
Pro-life advocates can use this finding as additional support for the view that life begins at conception. Bio-ethicists also need to rethink their belief that tinkering with embryos is OK in the early stages. As we reported 20 March 2021, their long-standing 14-day rule has now been extended indefinitely, leading to potentially monstrous experiments with cloning and hybrids. They need to go back to a zero-day rule: hands off that individual human life. It is not a toy to experiment on.
Nine months before the first Christmas, a miraculous zygote in the womb of Mary, partly from her body and partly from God, awakened in a way that is unfathomable to science, leading to a baby whose birth we celebrate this time of year. He was fully God and fully man: the God-man, Jesus Christ. He would grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men, teaching and leading his disciples as the Good Shepherd. But he would also be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world by his sacrifice on our behalf. Only someone fully God and fully man could pay the penalty for human sin. From the moment of conception to the moment of resurrection, God demonstrated his love for us, in that Christ died for us (Romans 5:1-11). Since he rose again and ascended back to the Father, his life becomes ours when we believe on his name. This is the “good news of great joy, which is for all the people” (Luke 2:10).