Technology with attitude

Irony

5

For every time the word “irony” is used correctly, there are approximately three hundred incorrect uses. (No, it is not “ironic” that it rained on the day you had planned a picnic.) The following, on the other hand, is ironic. Read it and giggle nervously:

A new form of cloning has been developed that is easier to carry out than the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, raising fears that it may one day be used on human embryos to produce “designer” babies.

One scientist said this weekend that a maverick attempt to perform the technique on humans is now too real to ignore. “It’s unethical and unsafe, but someone may be doing it today,” said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of American biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology.

“Cloning isn’t here now, but with this new technique we have the technology that can actually produce a child. If this was applied to humans it would be enormously important and troublesome,” said Dr Lanza, whose company has pioneered developments in stem cells and cell reprogramming.

The technique involves the genetic reprogramming of skin cells so they revert to an embryonic-like state. Last year, when the breakthrough was used on human skin cells for the first time, it was lauded by the Catholic Church and President George Bush as a morally acceptable way of producing embryonic stem cells without having to create or destroy human embryos.


These offspring are chimeras – a genetic mix of two or more individuals – because some of their cells derive from the embryo and some from the skin cell. Technically, such a child would have three biological parents. Human chimeras occur naturally when two embryos fuse in the womb and such people are often normal and healthy. Dr Lanza says there is no reason to believe that a human chimera created by the new technique would be unhealthy.

“At this point there are no laws or regulations for this kind of thing and the bizarre thing is that the Catholic Church and other traditional stem-cell opponents think this technology is great when in reality it could in the end become one of their biggest nightmares,” he said. “It is quite possible that the real legacy of this whole new programming technology is that it will be introducing the era of designer babies.

“So for instance if we had a few skin cells from Albert Einstein, or anyone else in the world, you could have a child that is say 10 per cent or 70 per cent Albert Einstein by just injecting a few of their cells into an embryo,” he said.

Or 10 to 70% Castro. Or Hugo Chavez. Or Osama Bin Laden.

But the great thing is that we won’t have “murdered” frozen embryos already slated for destruction. We’ll have made it possible to create the chimeric child of Michael Jackson, Kim Jong Il and Rosie O’Donnell, but we won’t have destroyed any already doomed frozen embryos. So Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the Pope will be happy.

Perhaps because the three of them could now have a baby.

Now that’s irony.