New Technique Expands the Range of Transgenic Animals

According to Wired, an
article in the November 18 issue of Current Biology details new advances
in inserting human genes into nonhuman animals. Researchers at the University
of Chicago have developed a technique to create transgenic organisms in
species as diverse as beetles, frogs and birds, with a potential to transplant
genes to many other species. Previously transgenic experiments had been
limited to fruit flies, nematodes, mice and rats.

The potential for advancing
medical knowledge is immense. Plans are already underway to use the new
technique to study diabetes, for example, as well as embryology.

Source:

Expanding
the Lab Menagerie
from Wired News, November 19, 1999

Do animals have "souls"?

Several news outlets recently
reported on work by a researcher at the California Institute of Technology
to discover the center of “self-awareness” within the brain. Researcher
John Allman claims to have found neurons believed to integrate the various
functions of the brain into what human beings experience as self-awareness
are also present in great apes.

While intriguing the evidence
for a self-awareness portion of the brain is sketchy at best. What the
researcher did was compare brain scans of normal, healthy adults with
those of brain scans of mentally ill and Alzheimer’s patients. What Allman
observed were differences in the density of neurons in the frontal lobe
of the brain near the corpus callosum (which connects the two halves of
the brain). In the Alzheimer’s patients, the disappearance of these “self-awareness”
cells seemed to correlate with a loss of identity.

Allman also looked at brain
scans of various animal species and found that while chimps and gorillas
had similar structures, though smaller than in human beings, they were
completely absent in the non-primate species he studied.

Reference:

“Science Uncovers Apes’ Hidden Soul” from The Times (UK) ,
November 23, 1999

Peter Singer Goes To School

When Princeton gave its stamp
of approval to Peter Singer by offering him an important appointment,
the university dismissed the possibility that it might have any moral
obligations beyond upholding the principal of academic freedom. Benjamin
Franklin Middle School in Teaneck, New Jersey, took its lead from Princeton
in assigning the following assignment to sixth graders:

Please respond to the following statement in at least 3 paragraphs.
Choose a “for or against” point of view and defend your opinion.

“Now it must be admitted these arguments apply to the newborn baby as
much as to the fetus.”

“When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another
infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness
will be greater if the disabled infant is killed… Therefore, if killing
the hemophiliac infant has no adverse affects on others, it would, according
to the total view, be right to kill him. The main point is clear: killing
a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very
often it is not wrong at all.”

Sharon Hes, a candidate for
a seat in the New Jersey state assembly, posted a copy of the assignment
to her campaign web site and noted:

However, it is both dangerous and damaging for eleven-year-olds
to be exposed to Singer’s “utilitarian ethics” in the writing assignment
described above … The real danger of this assignment is that it acclimates
the students to morally reprehensible views, making it seem like simply
a choice between chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

Well said, Ms. Hes. It is shocking
that Singer’s views have gained such cachet in elite institutions such
as Princeton. It is not surprising that some people still think the world
would be a better place if only we could get rid of “those” people —
cranks and crackpots who denigrate human life will probably always be
with us — but to see this view embraced and promoted in so many corners
is truly frightening.

Reference:

Public School Teaches About Infanticide by Sharon Hes (http://www.sharonhes.com/petersinger.htm)

John Leo, Closet Animal Rights Advocate?

I was shocked and dismayed
a few weeks ago when I opened U.S. News & World Report to see
conservative columnist John Leo denouncing the idea of using a trial to
grant non-human primates rights. Although Leo is against the primate trial,
he ended up conceding much of the animal rights argument.

Leo certainly doesn’t have
a lot of use for animal rights in principle, noting that “it’s even
an expression of bias to talk about protecting wildlife, since this assumes
that human control and domination of other species is acceptable. These
are surely far-out ideas.” Unfortunately as he moves through his
argument it becomes apparent Leo has been heavily influenced by these
“far out ideas.” Leo writes, “Ideas about humane treatment
of animals are indeed changing. Many of us have changed our minds about
furs, zoos, slaughterhouse techniques, and at least some forms of animal
experimentation.”

In fact despite the implication
early on in his piece that he is against the idea of primates being granted
rights, it is clear by the end of the piece that what Leo really objects
to is the issue being solved through judicial activism rather than through
legislation as he makes clear in the following passage, “The debate
about greater concern for the animal world continues. But the alliance
between the radicals and the lawyers means that, once again, an issue
that ought to be taken to the people and resolved by democratic means
will most likely be pre-empted by judges and lawyers.”

What’s going on here? Although
I happen to agree with Leo about many things, he has a tendency to overestimate
both the sincerity and the accuracy of his opponents. Leo repeats, for
example, extravagant claims made about non-human primates use of language
which don’t tend to hold up under scrutiny (Leo claims that an ape can
talk at the same level of a 4-year old, which I would chalk up as pure
nonsense – unfortunately Leo does an extremely poor job of documenting
which ape can talk at that level, apparently taking animal rights propaganda
at face value.) His inclusion of zoos in the list of things he no longer
supports was shocking, however. Some zoos, especially before the 1980s,
did engage in abusive behavior and poor care, but then some pet owners
also neglect their animals. If Leo is against holding animals in properly
managed zoos I don’t see how he can consider the rest of the animal rights
argument as “too far out.”

On the other hand Leo does
a good job of summarizing the legal theory promulgated by Steven Wise
and others. Wise actually argues that non-human primates should have standing
to sue using pre-Civil War statutes that allowed slaves, who were non-persons
under the Constitution, to bring lawsuits.

I don’t think this has much
chance of succeeding because if it did there would be several well-positioned
coalitions ready to take legislative action to overturn such a decisions.
The most obvious group, aside from the animal industry, threatened by
such a decision would be pro-choice forces such as the National Organization
for Women and Planned Parenthood. Any decision that allows people to sue
on behalf of non-persons would be a direct challenge to a woman’s right
to have an abortion in the United States.

Much Ado about Baboon Herpes

In late September, researchers
announced that a man who received a baboon liver in an experimental 1992
transplant contracted a herpes virus known as cytomegalovirus (CMV) from
the baboon. The man died of liver failure a couple months after the transplant,
but tests of his tissues revealed he was infected with CMV.

Animal rights activists
and others opposed to transgenic diseases were quick to pounce on this
revelation to argue against animal transplants. But what does this really
mean?

First, it is important
not to understate the real risk associated with transgenic transplants,
especially in the early stages the technology is in. There is simply no
way anyone can guarantee that a disease won’t pass from animals to human
beings without further research – which, of course, is why this research
is still experimental and hospitals around the country aren’t’ doing hundreds
of such transplants.

By the same token, it is
important not to overstate the risk. Animal-human contact constantly poses
risks that most of us find completely acceptable. Few people outside the
animal rights community would advocate banning pig farming simply because
pigs are an important vector for the influenza virus. Nor would most people
advocate eliminating horses because of the handful of deaths from equine
encephalitis every year.

It’s also important to
note that although the transplant recipient in this case was infected
with CMV immediately after the transplant, his body showed no signs of
infection at his death. According to an Associated Press story on the
case, the reason the virus was able to infect the patient was because
he stopped taking the antiviral drug ganciclovir after 18 days because
of the side effects. Tissue samples taken 28 days after the transplant
show the CMV virus. The patient resumed the ganciclovir, and by day 35
was completely free of the virus. Although no one can be certain, it appears
the drug killed the virus.

Even if ganciclovir couldn’t
kill CMV, there is a straightforward way to completely avoid this problem
– raise animals intended for transplantation in sterile conditions. CMV
infects about 98 percent of baboons because it is harmless to the animals;
the only way to prevent such infection is to raise the animals in sterile
conditions. An AIDS patient who received a bone marrow transplant from
a baboon was free of CMV because the baboon used had been raised from
birth in a sterile environment, quarantined from other baboons.

The Craziest Animal Rights Quote I've Seen in Awhile

Just to illustrate how
seriously some animal rights activists take their admonition to give equal
consideration to animal interests, an activist posted a note to an animal
rights email list a few weeks ago angry at C-SPAN’s excellent morning
show.

Was the activist angry at some positive coverage of the animal industry,
or perhaps its highlighting of an advance in medical research? Nope, according
to the activist, “The C-SPAN morning show has come under criticism
for requiring a daily newspaper headline, requiring participants to be
involved in the hundreds of millions of trees, birds, squirrels, etc.
killed annually for newsprint.” Wow. Now if we could just get the
activists to understand that millions of birds, squirrels, etc., are also
killed producing the vegetables they consider to be cruelty-free we’d
be getting somewhere.