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Human Cloning Advanced Despite Ethics

A researcher in New York obtained women’s eggs and conducted experiments on them that could lead to human cloning. While done in the name of regenerative medicine, the experiments on embryonic stem cells involved the destruction of a human embryo. This kind of experimentation raises multiple ethical concerns, but the researcher went ahead anyway, and scientific journals are hailing the advance, albeit with a palpable twinge of conscience about ethics.

Enjoy Your Body Gifts

When you eat right and exercise to do your body good, you may have little idea how much your body is giving back all the time. From recent scientific discoveries, here’s a look at a few mechanisms under our skin that not only keep us alive, but provide us with a shopping mall of good things.

Human Genome Individuality Adds New Questions

Mission accomplished: “The Human Genome Project” was in the bag by 2003. Now we understand how humans are genetically wired, right? Not so fast. Another human genome was just published, raising a whole new set of questions. The big issue is that we all have two genomes in one – one from each parent. Biologists knew this, of course, but for the first time, those two genomes were untangled from one another, and a lot of differences were found: two million, in fact. How do our two separate genomes behave toward each other? And if genomes differ this much, what does a concept like “the human genome” really mean?

Are Embryonic Stem Cells Obsolete?

Adult stem cells can apparently do everything embryonic stem cells can – and they are moving regenerative medicine forward faster, with more results. Since the use of human embryos for research is ethically repugnant to many people, what motivations remain to continue the practice? Here is a rapid-fire list of stem cell news this month:

Are Biological Clocks Like Paley’s Watch?

What is a clock made of? We think of springs, gears and moving parts made out of metal. But a clock could, in theory, be designed with almost any material. There are water clocks, sundials, and electromagnetic oscillators that all function to tell time. What difference does it make if the parts are made of liquids, laser beams, or plastic? What if a clock was made of biological material—would it be any less a device for keeping time? Would it surprise you that such clocks exist in your body and in every living thing?

Media Respond Predictably to Latest Ape-Man

A new law of nature has been revealed: the Law of Predictable Media Reactions to Missing Link Announcements. Once again, the science news media have gone ape over the latest bone story emerging from the paleoanthropology industry. In keeping with tradition, reporters are saying this will “rewrite the steps of our evolution.” And once again, a contender gets his 15 minutes of fame, showered in media hype. If the LPMR law holds, we can expect to see his claim discredited when the next contender gets his or her turn.

Early Man Was Like Us

Human evolution theory has been dealt more body blows this month, raising questions whether it can sustain any more injuries after a decade of repeated punches and concussions. How many times can a theory take the “everything you know is wrong” body slam? We’ve already seen Neanderthals promoted to fully human status. Now, some evolutionists are claiming that the “missing links” on the way to modern humans were all interfertile with us.

Adventures in Biomimetics

The imitation of nature in engineering has become one of the hottest trends in science. Almost every week, amazing technologies are being advanced the easy way – by observing how living things do it. We all stand to benefit from the design-based science of biomimetics. Here are a few recent examples.

How the Reporter Evolved Its Silliness

When it comes to evolutionary stories, reporters have a knack for propounding the silliest notions about human origins. This tendency is evident in several recent science news stories about early man propounding, with nary a blush, outlandish claims with little evidence – or no evidence whatsoever.

Secularists Lured to Paganism

If man is hopelessly religious, what happens when society’s scientific elites teach that religion is groundless? G. K. Chesterton once said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” The new atheists claim to base their beliefs on scientific evidence. They have no need for religious teachings or rituals. Is it not strange, then, to see the attraction of secularists to movements that give the appearance of new religious forms? Is there something innate in human nature that cries out for the sense of ultimate purpose and connection to the divine that religions have traditionally provided? Three recent examples of near-cult experiences may be illuminating.

Book Review: The Days of Lamech

To Biblical creationists, the period before the Flood lasted some 2,000 years – an immense span of time for humans with an explosive mix: high intelligence and a murderous sin nature. Yet the Bible provides few details about this period. How far did civilization proceed? What technologies did they develop? We know from Genesis they lived long, built cities, worked metals, made musical instruments, and mastered farming. We also know that the world was filled with violence. A new novel explores the possibilities of that tantalizing past. Building on the success of his first novel The Days of Peleg, novelist Jon Saboe has just published the long-awaited prequel, a drama set in the height of the antediluvian civilization: The Days of Lamech.

Archaic Humans Are One With Us

According to the biological species concept, two varieties of anything are considered one species if they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Applied to humans, new evidence suggests that Neanderthals and the recently-discovered Denisovans were members of the human species. According to New Scientist, “On the western fringes of Siberia, the Stone Age Denisova cave has surrendered precious treasure: a toe bone that could shed light on early humans’ promiscuous relations with their hominin cousins.” Since one can only be promiscuous within the same species, this puts enormous pressure on evolutionary timelines that assume the Denisovans split from the Neanderthals 300,000 years ago.

Hobbits Were Brain Diseased Modern Humans

The discovery of fossils of miniature humans in Indonesia, designated Homo floresiensis but nicknamed Hobbits, was one of the most exciting and controversial announcements of 2004. Since then, interpretations of the fossils have fallen into two camps: those who think the skeletons represent normal humans with the brain-defective disease microcephaly, and those who think they represent evolutionary missing links. A new paper compared skulls of H. floresiensis with those of modern humans, Homo erectus, and humans with microcephaly. The result favors the interpretation that the Hobbits most likely were diseased modern humans.

Cell Chaperones Keep Proteins Properly Folded

Imagine linking together a chain of 300 plastic shapes, some with magnets at various places. Then let it go and see if you could get it to fold spontaneously into a teapot. This is the challenge that cells face every minute: folding long chains of amino acids (polypeptides) into molecular machines and structures for the cell’s numerous tasks required for life. DNA in the nucleus codes for these polypeptides. They are assembled in ribosomes in single-file order. How do they end up in complex folded shapes? Some polypeptides will spontaneously collapse into their native folds, like the magnetic chain in our analogy. Others, however, need help. Fortunately, the cell provides an army of assistants, called chaperones, to monitor, coax, and repair unfolded proteins, to achieve “proteostasis” – a stable, working set of proteins. That army is so well-organized and complex, scientists continue to try to figure out how it performs so well in the field.

Brave New Chimeras

Tampering with human embryonic stem cells has been at the forefront of ethical debates for a decade. Behind it, though, lurks an even more alarming prospect: the creation of human-animal hybrids. As with embryos, the appeal has been to improve human health. But ethicists ask if there is any benefit worth blurring the line between humans and animals. Pro-chimera advocates admit there is a certain “disgust” factor that could arouse public anxiety, and agree that experimentation would need to be regulated. But who would regulate the regulators, and on what moral grounds?
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