Scientists have now created synthetic human embryos by reprogramming embryonic stem cells but are only legally allowed to cultivate them for 14 days. The media calls it a “breakthrough,” which could lead to vital information on genetic disorders, miscarriages, the placenta, early fetal development, and much more, while noting obvious ethical concerns. But aside from answering medical-related questions, aren’t there compelling questions that could be asked, which venture into spiritual territory?
“We can create human embryo-like models by the reprogramming of [embryonic stem] cells,” Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, said in an address.
Synthetic embryos aren’t formed from the union of an egg and a sperm.
Do Synthetic Embryos Have The Spark of Life?
Could such a synthetic embryo have the spark of life, of consciousness? Or is it just a group of highly organized cells resembling an embryo and incapable of animation?
Could such an embryo cultivated in a lab become a human being? Or, is that impossible, and if so, why?
In today’s world, the idea that scientists could delve into spiritual questions probably seems way out of place. But perhaps, this line of research will inevitably lead there. Do synthetic embryos have a soul?
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Synthetic Embryos with Beating Hearts and Brains
So far, synthetic human embryos have no beating heart or brain and are called “structures” or “entities,” as Nature put it. Zernicka-Goetz stresses they are not human embryos.
“I just wish to stress that they are not human embryos,” Zernicka-Goetz told CNN. “They are embryo models, but they are very exciting because they are very … similar to human embryos and [a] very important path towards discovery of why so many pregnancies fail,” she added
While they haven’t developed a beating heart or brain yet, they do have cells which could answer interesting questions if they were alive longer than 14 days. Or maybe “alive” isn’t the right word?
“The structures do not have a beating heart or the beginnings of a brain but include cells that would typically go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and the embryo itself,” the Guardian reports.
Although they could be implanted in a womb, they will not be. It’s illegal. On the other hand, scientists who induce stem cells derived from adult tissues instead of embryonic stem cells (derived from in vitro fertilization) aren’t currently governed by the same rules. Will they conduct these experiments further than 14 days?
If so, it seems likely the success rate would not be great. For example, cloning experiments have shown extremely high rates of death and developmental abnormalities.
Mouse and Monkey Synthetic Embryos
Prior experiments with synthetic mouse embryos have developed the beginnings of a beating heart and an intestinal tract. In those experiments, they did go on to implant the embryos into female mice. Meanwhile, scientists from China have conducted similar experiments with synthetic monkey embryos.
In both cases, when the embryos were implanted in a female womb, they didn’t develop for long, and only a few days in monkeys before the pregnancy terminated spontaneously. For some reason, they weren’t viable. There’s a problem, which they described as a “technical” issue or something intrinsic to a living being.
“That’s very difficult to answer. It’s going to be hard to tell whether there’s an intrinsic problem with them or whether it’s just technical,” said Robin Lovell-Badge from the Francis Crick Institute. This unknown potential made the need for stronger legislation pressing,” he said.
If scientists discover intrinsic issues, where will it lead? Would they find out there’s a limit to science when answering such questions? If so, could that be an intrinsic problem of science?
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