Evolution in Reverse?

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-fifth in a series - X is for Xenotransplantation

The ABCs of Biotech series is winding down. In these final posts we hope to tie up loose ends and provide a brief summary.

Earlier in post 7, we looked at the practice of injecting a florescent agent from jellyfish into humans to differentiate a view to disease using noninvasive imaging technology. We noted that it was one thing to combine florescent cells with human cells for a differentiated view under a microscope, and it is another to inject them into a human for an interior differentiated view, and it is yet another to combine jellyfish cells with any other organism in a germ phase (in vitro fertilization) to merge that florescence with the other subject of experimentation. That is how we get cats that glow in the dark.

“Some say that this principle, that of adding genes from one species or kind to another whether in cells, plants or animals, is what defines the biotechnology industry.” In this post we will consider that principle in relation to transplantation. Xenotransplantation— xeno for strange or other; different in origin,— is:

any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion into a human recipient of either (a) live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source, or (b) human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have had ex vivo (outside the body) contact with live, nonhuman animal cells, tissues or organs. (ref)

The development of xenotransplantation is, in part, driven by the demand for human organs for clinical transplantation which far exceeds the supply. A history of xenotransplantation is found here.

For diabetics and others with kidney failure, biotech currently is genetically modifying pigs so that their kidneys can be safely transplanted into humans without infecting them with viruses or any complication. Also, pig pancreatic cells are being modified to match human pancreatic cells for transplant to better manage and ultimately heal diabetes.

Using human pancreatic cells for implant to other humans is difficult since there is a shortage of these, and when used they cause side effects from anti-rejection drugs that suppress the immune system. Of course, the pig cells cause more serious immune system problems, but it’s a lot easier to experiment with their bodies, combining their cells with human cells, to come up with cells that seem safe to transplant. Thus do the different species become chimeras. This makes perfect sense to an evolutionist.

By definition, a genetic chimera is a single organism composed of cells with distinct genotypes. But does the pig have a distinct genotype after it has been modified with human cells? Hmmm…

This area of biotech reminds one of the Bible story about Balaam and his ass, or in some versions, donkey. In the account in Numbers, Balaam, a prophet, was asked by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites who were approaching his land as they journeyed to the Promised Land. The Lord warned Balaam not to curse Israel, for they were blessed. As the story goes, Balak was persistent in his plea to Balaam, so Balaam asked the Lord again, and the Lord told him to go with Balak’s men but only to do what He told him to do.

God was angry with Balaam for questioning his command, and sent his angel to stand in his way.

Now he was riding on the donkey… And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road.
Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again.
Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”
And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?”
And he said, “No.”
Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.
And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”
(Num 22:22-33)

God will place barriers in our way to prevent us from rash deeds, and even the unintelligent can perceive them.

How can a biotech scientist discern when a barrier is not to be crossed? After all, in science the name of the game is persistence. Continuing experimentation is the norm.

Bioethicists suggest ways to judge an activity or research project like xenotransplantation:

  • Welfare of the pig
  • Should we use pigs in this way?
  • Should the human-animal boundary be crossed?
  • Would the money be better spent on public health campaigns that encourage good diet and exercise that can help one avoid diabetes (etc)?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • What rights need to be protected and who is responsible?
  • Should individuals have the right to choose for themselves or does one decision count for all?
  • What is the “good” thing to do?
  • What are the perspectives of various religious or cultural groups?

In the previous post we saw that experimentation with a plant made by God is leading to a way to preserve the human immune system while targeting the cancer cells only. But xenotransplantation potentially will preserve the patient’s immune system through combining human and animals cells to make one creature more like the other. And be aware, this type of lab research is going on with many species and purposes.

Striving to apply reason and all the rules of bioethics may not work; biotechnicians just need to see the warning in the way.

What Wormwood Can Do

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-fourth in a series - W is for Wormwood

Wormwood is an interesting word in the Bible as well as in biotech.

In the Bible, depending on the version, it is mentioned one to ten times. The NIV uses it only once (Rev 8:11), and the NASB ten, the most times (Deut 29:18, Pro 5:4, Jer 9:15, Jer 23:15, Lam 3:15, Lam 3:19, Amos 5:7, Amos 6:12, Rev 8:11 (2x)).

Reviewing these passages, we glean that wormwood was known as early as 1400 BC when Moses warned the Israelites to be faithful to God’s laws— with thankfulness — they were not to emulate their fathers who rebelled in the wilderness with bitterness against the Lord and his servant Moses. But no doubt wormwood was known from the earliest days of man.

In Proverbs wormwood describes the end result for a man who goes astray into the arms of a prostitute.

Jeremiah prophesies that for their sins, God will give his people wormwood and gall, that is, not only the plant that is bitter but also one that is both nauseous and noxious (Matthew Henry). In Lamentations, Jeremiah feels the deepest sorrow in his soul as he surveys the destruction of Jerusalem: He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drunken with wormwood …

Amos likens the justice system in Israel to wormwood because it had removed righteousness from the earth, and righteousness had turned to wormwood.

Finally, John in Revelation foresees a burning star called Wormwood that falls from heaven on a third part of the rivers and the fountains of waters, causing death for people who drank from them because the waters became wormwood. This occurs after the seventh and final seal of the scroll is broken.

It is thought that should a comet strike the earth, its cyanogen gas would mix with water to form hydrogen cyanide that would cause death at concentrations over 5 parts/million (ref)

But note, all the biblical references to wormwood do not disparage the plant itself; they only reinforce that it tastes bitter and causes water to taste bitter.

Over time it was discovered to heal certain illnesses:

…Most foods had to be salted or smoked in order to preserve them through the winter months. In the world that people lived in without modern anti-bacterial chemicals and without modern food preservation and preparation technology, contracting intestinal worms and other parasites along the digestive tract was an every day problem for the majority of the population. Historically, the most popular and effective means of ridding one's body of such parasites was the use of WORMWOOD, and as anyone can plainly see, the name given to the plant group Artemisia in the English language is based upon the use of the plants: wormwood: the wood that cures of worms. Granted today we do not consider a shrub to be "wood", but we are looking at the historical origins of the name. (ref)

The WebMD site lists other uses of wormwood in medicines to address loss of appetite, upset stomach, gall bladder disease, intestinal spasms; for fever, liver disease, depression, muscle pain, memory loss and worm infections; to increase sexual desire; as a tonic; and to stimulate sweating; for Crohn's disease and a kidney disorder called IgA nephropathy. Also, wormwood oil is used for digestive disorders, to increase sexual desire, and to stimulate the imagination; or when applied to the skin for osteoarthritis (OA), healing wounds and insect bites, and reducing pain.

The property of thujone in wormwood excites the central nervous system (or could cause seizures), and the use of wormwood in some alcoholic beverages engenders a psycho-active ingredient like coffee or tea do, so that people experience a mental or emotional boost. Absinthe, an emerald green alcoholic drink made of wormwood, fennel and anise (banned in the US), was touted by artists and writers like vanGogh and Hemingway. (ref)

And now we arrive at the late 20th and current 21st century. This article describes the use of wormwood in a drug to wipe out malaria.

Wormwood has also been bio-engineered by professor Henry Lai, PhD, University of Washington, as a concentrate that is

… over a thousand times more effective than chemo at targeting cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. The compound appears to especially be effective in combating breast cancer… and is said to act as a “trojan horse,” creating a literal “time bomb” for cancer cells. The compound is founded on the fact that cancer cells are not as successful as healthy cells in disposing of free-floating iron molecules. This weakness causes the presence of iron in general to create a stressful environment for them. Lai and his team used naturally-occuring holotransferrin, which carries iron into cells, as a way to transfer high doses of artemisinin into breast and prostate cancer cells. (ref)

This article points out that cancer drug designers are faced with the unique challenge— that cancer cells develop from our own normal cells. This means that most ways to poison cancer cells also kill healthy cells. Most available chemotherapies are very toxic, destroying one normal cell for every five to 10 cancer cells killed.

But the wormwood compound specifically targets the cancer cells. A recent study found that sweet wormwood can kill up to 12,000 cancer cells for every one healthy cell it may affect.

This is how God works, too. Through bitter trials, He targets the disease in our hearts that must be destroyed if we are to live joyous, free and healthy lives. He will not destroy a deeper or wider area than is necessary.

Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1

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Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

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