Comments: You don't Need A Sperm! (February 2005)

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright February 3, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

COMMENTS: [Imagine the scientifically naive proclamation by a physician during heated debates on human cloning legislation before the Missouri legislature this week (full article below):

Sen. Charles Wheeler, a Democrat and physician from Kansas City, repeatedly argued that because no sperm is used in SCNT, no person is created. "There has to be a sperm," he said. "It reminds me of that old ad: 'Where's the beef?' There's no beef in a somatic cell nuclear transfer."

Apparently this physician is not aware of the long known scientific fact that human beings can be reproduced both sexually (involving an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization) and a-sexually (e.g., as the immediate product of many different cloning procedures).

For example, almost all of us have seen human twins and triplets at one time or another (except, perhaps, this particular physician). With naturally occurring monozygotic human twinning that occurs naturally in utero, one of the twins begins to exist immediately at fertilization (i.e., sexual reproductive process that does involve a sperm). However, the other twin (or triplet) doesn't begin to exist until later -- after blastomere separation or blastocyst splitting. These are a-sexual human reproductive processes that do not involve a sperm as an immediate cause of reproduction, but rather are naturally occurring forms of human cloning. These human beings reproduced a-sexually - i.e., without the use of sperm or oocytes - are the immediate product of such a-sexual human reproductive processes. Should we then conclude that because a sperm was not involved, one of a pair of human twins, or two of human triplets, ARE NOT HUMAN BEINGS?

Blastomere separation and blastocyst splitting (cloning by "twinning") are now commonly used in IVF centers as "infertility treatments", especially for older women patients. These cloning processes are used to a-sexually reproduce human twins and triplets which are then implanted into the woman's uterus, carried to term, and born. Would this physician not treat such a-sexually reproduced human beings because they were not reproduced using sperm and thus not human beings? And what about the use of artificial human genes, chromosomes, nuclei, sperm, oocytes and even embryos in research studies (and even as IVF "treatments")? [See Irving list of such studies already published in PubMed, "Scientific References, Human Genetic Engineering (Including Cloning) ...", at:]. While these human embryos and fetuses are in utero, or after they are born, would they too not be human beings - and thus not share equally in inherent human rights, protections, and dignity?

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), like "twinning", is a well-established cloning technique. Once the enucleated human oocyte cell containing the donated human nucleus is activated, then "the matter is appropriately organized" as they say, and a new living single-cell human being then begins to exist a-sexually. This is an objective scientific fact:

TOM STRACHAN and ANDREW P. READ, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley &Sons, Inc, 1999): [G]enetically "identical" twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, a mother and a father. A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. The resulting 'renucleated' oocyte can give rise to an individual who will carry the nuclear genome of only one donor individual, unlike genetically identical twins. The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. ... Nuclear transfer technology was first employed in embryo cloning, in which the donor cell is derived from an early embryo, and has been long established in the case of amphibia. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again. (pp. 508-509)

There's "the beef", Sen./Dr. Wheeler!

For the scientific explanation of the role of "regulation" in twinning, SCNT, and other cloning and genetic engineering techniques, see Irving, "Playing God by manipulating man: Facts and frauds of human cloning" (October 4, 2003), at:; and, -- DNI]

Stem cell issue stirs both sides

Disabled add their voices to debate on cloning ban.

JEFFERSON CITY - Two days after the experts weighed in, Missourians afflicted by disease, injury and grief testified last night on a bill to ban a cloning procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

At a packed hearing in the Senate lounge, 18-year-old Adina Talve-Goodman of St. Louis told senators she was born with several birth defects, including congenital heart disease. Because of her condition, Talve-Goodman said, she lives "within my health" - going to school part time, not participating in sports and resting "more than my grandfather."

"But I refuse to do this forever," she said. "I shouldn't have to. I want the opportunity to live a full life."

Stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, have "given me a hope I've never felt before," she said.

Chelsea Zimmerman, 22, of Holts Summit uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury suffered in 1999. Despite the potential benefits of SCNT, Zimmerman urged lawmakers to ban the procedure.

Zimmerman said she would like to walk again and to see the suffering of others diminished. "But I could never accept the harvesting of another human life, no matter how small, for my own comfort," she said.

The cloning ban proposed by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, is one of the most contentious issues lawmakers face this year. On Monday, four experts testified and frequently disagreed about the science involved in SCNT. Last night, a crowd of witnesses lined up before the hearing and later spilled into a hallway, where a television monitor was set up for the crowd to watch. In SCNT, the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a body cell. The cell is stimulated to divide and form a tiny embryo, or blastocyst, of about 150 cells. At that point, embryonic stem cells can be extracted, causing the destruction of the embryo.

Opponents of the procedure say it creates a human life for the sole purpose of destroying it. Procedure supporters say the small cluster of cells isn't truly human and highlight the potential benefits of embryonic stem cells to treat diseases and injuries.

Scientists on both sides of that question testified last night, but those who have suffered injury or illness provided the more compelling testimony. Penny Lorenz-Bailey, assistant director of an injury-prevention program based at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine, uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury and opposes the bill.

Lorenz-Bailey told senators that if their child had a similar injury, they would be knocking on the doors of researchers in search of cures. "You would not want to see your child or your spouse c have to deal with this," she said.

Ron Ozbolt of Raytown suffers from Parkinson's disease, and his hands shook as he testified. If embryonic stem cell research is so promising, he said, "I could greatly benefit from it. But I believe in the sanctity of life." The explosive mix of religion, politics and highly complicated science produced some unusual exchanges.

Sen. Charles Wheeler, a Democrat and physician from Kansas City, repeatedly argued that because no sperm is used in SCNT, no person is created. "There has to be a sperm," he said. "It reminds me of that old ad: 'Where's the beef?' There's no beef in a somatic cell nuclear transfer."

In a later discussion, Robert Onder, an assistant professor from Washington University who supports the bill, pointed out that SCNT has been used to clone other mammals, such as Dolly the sheep.

Wheeler said some people believe that if it looks like a sheep and walks like a sheep, it's a sheep. "But it's not a sheep," he said. "It's a manufactured sheep."

Religious discussions were also prominent. Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, noted that the New Testament says Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

The notion that sperm must be present to create human life, Weber said, "inherently denies the concurrent humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ."

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