Transcript: Elaine Dewar on her book The Second Tree | Feb 05, 2005

A book appears on screen with a title that reads "The Second Tree, Elaine Dewar." The cover features a double image of a white sheep up top and below there is a double image of a bronze griffin.

Elaine Dewar appears on screen standing in front of a podium speaking into a microphone with a wall of books behind her. Elaine is in her forties, has shoulder length, dark brown hair, wears black-rimmed glasses, and wears a black sweater and a rock necklace.

Elaine Dewar says THIS BOOK, I
DON'T THINK I REALLY WANT TO
TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT, SO MUCH
AS READ TO YOU FROM IT,
ESPECIALLY FROM THE
INTRODUCTION WHICH GOES SOME
WAY TO EXPLAINING WHY A
JOURNALIST WHO HAS COVERED
POLITICS AND THE ARTS AND THIS
AND THAT OVER THE YEARS, EVEN
BUSINESS, WOULD FIND HERSELF
GOING AFTER A WHOLE FIELD, IN
THIS CASE, BIOLOGY.
THE ANSWER IS REALLY, IT
STARTED IN "BONES," WHICH WAS A
BOOK ABOUT THE WAY NORTH
AMERICA WAS FIRST POPULATED BY
THE FIRST PEOPLE WHO CAME HERE,
WHERE THEY CAME FROM, WHO THEY
WERE.
WHEN I WAS WORKING ON THE BOOK,
I WAS INTRODUCED TO
ANTHROPOLOGISTS WHO WERE USING
THE SCIENCE OF THE STUDY OF
DNA AND MARKERS ON DNA TO TRY
AND TRACE POPULATION MOVEMENTS
OVER SPACE AND TIME.
AND I KNEW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
ABOUT DNA.
LEARNING ABOUT IT WAS LIKE
CLIMBING UP A SHEER CLIFF FACE
WITHOUT ANY NET TO CATCH ME.
HOWEVER, HAVING STARTED DOWN
THAT PATH, I STARTED READING
NEWSPAPERS WITH A VERY
DIFFERENT EYE.
AND I FOUND MYSELF ATTRACTED TO
THESE STORIES, ALL KINDS OF
BIOLOGICAL STORIES.
FOR EXAMPLE, ABOUT A WORM THAT
WAS BEING STUDIED BY A GROUP IN
VANCOUVER, A WORM CALLED C-
ELEGANS, WHICH HAS A GENE WHICH
PERMITS IT TO LIVE IN A CERTAIN
KIND OF STATE CALLED THE DOUR
STATE FOR AN EXTREMELY LONG
PERIOD OF TIME.
IT ALSO HAS THE CAPACITY TO
TURN IN OR NOT TO TURN INTO
THAT STATE.
THE PEOPLE DOING THAT WORK
BELIEVED THAT WE WOULD FIND A
GENE IN HUMAN BEINGS THAT WAS
VERY SIMILAR AND THAT MIGHT
HAVE THE SAME CAPACITIES.
THEN THERE WAS THE STUFF ABOUT
THIS WEIRD ENZYME CALLED
TOLOMERASE, WHICH APPARENTLY
PUTS THE ENDS BACK ONTO
CHROMOSOMES, WHICH APPARENTLY
UNRAVEL LIKE SHOELACES EVERY
TIME A CELL DIVIDES.
WE'RE ALL THE PRODUCT OF
MULTIPLE, MULTIPLE, MULTIPLE
CELL DIVISIONS, AND FOR A LONG
TIME BIOLOGISTS HAVE WONDERED
WHY IT IS THAT AT A CERTAIN
POINT, CELLS STOP DIVIDING.
THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF DEATH,
THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF
ORGANISMS DYING, AND IT TURNS
OUT THAT TOLOMERASE MIGHT HAVE
SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS.
TOLOMERASE CAN PUT THE ENDS
BACK ON THAT CHROMOSOME, KEEP
THAT CELL DIVIDING FOR AN
INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME.
THEN THERE WERE THE STORIES
ABOUT CLONING.
I DON'T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER
WHEN DOLLY THE SHEEP SUDDENLY
MADE ALL THE FRONT PAGES OF THE
NEWSPAPERS AROUND THE WORLD.
BUT THAT STORY REALLY GRABBED
ME, BECAUSE HERE WAS A
SITUATION IN WHICH AN EGG WAS
TAKEN OUT OF A SHEEP.
AN OLD CELL WAS TAKEN OUT OF
THE MAMMARY GLAND OF A SHEEP
THAT WAS ALREADY DEAD.
THE NUCLEUS WAS TAKEN OUT OF
THAT CELL, PUT INTO AN EGG.
THE EGG WAS TRIPPED OFF WITH A
LITTLE BIT OF AN ELECTRIC
SHOCK, AND SUDDENLY BEGAN TO
DIVIDE AS IF IT WAS AN EMBRYO.
IT WAS PUT INTO THE UTERUS OF A
SHEEP, AND ALONG COMES A FULLY
FORMED ANIMAL CALLED DOLLY.

Elaine Dewar says SO AROUND THE
SAME TIME, SOME OTHER
BIOLOGISTS WERE ABLE TO GET A
HUMAN EMBRYO TO STOP DEVELOPING
ALTOGETHER, AND TO CREATE AN
IMMORTAL STEM CELL LINE.

A caption reads "Elaine Dewar, Author, ‘The Second Tree: Of Clones, Chimeras and Quests for Immortality’"

The caption changes to "U of T Bookstore Reading Series."

The caption changes to "Hart House Library, November 17, 2004."

Elaine continues THESE STEM CELLS COULD BE
TWEAKED INTO BECOMING DIFFERENT
KINDS OF TISSUES.
AND THAT STEM CELL LINE
BASICALLY WOULD KEEP DIVIDING
AND DIVIDING AND DIVIDING
FOREVER, SO WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
A CERTAIN KIND OF IMMORTALITY.
THESE CELLS
ALSO, WE WERE TOLD, COULD BE
DIRECTED TO DEVELOP INTO
SPECIFIC THINGS, HEART-LIKE
CELLS, MUSCLE-LIKE CELLS.
EVERYBODY SAID THIS WORK WOULD
CURE DIABETES, ALZHEIMER'S
PARALYSIS, EVERY BAD THING YOU
COULD THINK OF, AND SOME BEGAN
TO TALK ABOUT HUMAN MORTALITY
AS A TREATABLE DISORDER.
SO THAT REALLY CAUGHT MY
ATTENTION.
I WAS OVER 50, I WAS AVOIDING
THE MIRROR, BECAUSE I HAD TO
LOOK AT THE DEWLAPS AND THE
GREY HAIR, AND THE MIDRIFF
BULGE, AND ALL THE HORRIBLE
THINGS THAT FLESH IS HEIR TO.
AND THE MIRROR MADE ME SEE THAT
THERE'S WORSE TO COME.
I GOT THIS NOTION YOU COULD
COMBINED THIS WORK ON
TOLOMERASE AND EMBRYONIC STEM
CELLS AND CLONING, AND PUT ALL
THIS STUFF TOGETHER IN A NEW
HUMAN NUCLEUS AND INTO A HUMAN
EMBRYO AND WE COULD LIVE
FOREVER.
SO "THE SECOND TREE" STARTED IN
THAT KIND OF SILLY VANITY AND
THOSE KINDS OF DREAMS.
BUT I BECAME UNEQUIVOCALLY
COMMITTED TO IT WHEN I SAW MY
FIRST, MANMADE LIVING CHIMERA.
A CHIMERA IS A MYTHICAL
CREATURE FORMED OF DIFFERENT
ANIMALS.
IF YOU THINK OF THE EGYPTIAN
GODS, HORACE OR ISIS, THEIR
ANIMAL HEADS ON A HUMAN BODY.
IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE SPHINX,
IT'S A MAN'S HEAD ON AN ANIMALS
BODY.
IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE ASSYRIAN
SCULPTURES THAT ARE ON THE
FRONT OF MY BOOK, SHEEP'S HEAD,
LION'S BODY, EAGLE'S WINGS.
BUT THE CHIMERAS I SAW WERE NOT
PAINTED, AND THEY WEREN'T
CARVED IN STONE.
THEY WERE LIVING MICE CONCOCTED
BY ANDRAS NAGY AT MOUNT SINAI
HOSPITAL IN TORONTO ON THE
RESEARCH WARDS BETWEEN THE
FLOORS WHERE I GAVE BIRTH TO MY
CHILDREN.
I WILL READ TO YOU LATER FROM
THE SECTION OF THE BOOK
DESCRIBING THAT FIRST ENCOUNTER
WITH THOSE CHIMERAS.
I REALISED THEN THAT WHAT IS
DONE IN MICE CAN BE DONE WITH
US, AND THIS GALVANISED ME AS
NO READING COULD HAVE DONE,
INTO AN EXPLORATION INTO
CONTEMPORARY BIOLOGY, WHAT IT
CAN DO, WHAT IT IS DOING TO OUR
WORLD.
IT'S NOT JUST FRANKEN-FOODS
THAT WE HAVE TO CONJURE WITH.
IT'S NOT JUST ANIMALS THAT ARE
BEING CLONED OR ALTERED OR
RESHAPED, IT'S US, TOO.
SO I CAME BACK FROM NAGY'S LAB,
AND I WROTE A BOOK PROPOSAL,
AND I SIGNED THE CONTRACT, AND
I SPENT ALL THE MONEY BEFORE I
GAVE MYSELF A CHANCE TO THINK
TWICE.
I THOUGHT I'D READ A LITTLE,
I'D INTERVIEW HERE AND THERE,
BOB'S YOUR UNCLE...
ALTHOUGH I LAST SET FOOT IN A
BIOLOGY CLASS IN 1966, AND IT
WASN'T A PRETTY PICTURE.
[Audience Laughter]
I DIDN'T RECKON WITH THE FACT
THAT BIOLOGY HAS DEVELOPED INTO
A VERY DIVERSE CULTURE WITH
MANY DIALECTS FAR REMOVED FROM
ENGLISH, THAT THE LEADING
BIOLOGISTS ARE MEDIA SLICK AND
HARD TO PIN, AND THAT FAME AND
MONEY AND THE MARKETS DRIVE
BIOLOGY.
THAT BIOLOGY IS A GLOBAL
INDUSTRY THAT STRADDLES MOST
NATIONAL BOUNDARIES, SUCKS UP
BILLIONS OF TAXPAYERS DOLLARS,
WHICH OUR ELECTED
REPRESENTATIVES ARE VERY ILL-
EQUIPPED TO OVERSEE, AND THAT
BIOLOGISTS PLAY HOPSCOTCH WITH
LAW THAT GETS IN THE WAY,
MOVING FROM JURISDICTION TO
JURISDICTION TO GET THE JOB
DONE.
SO "THE SECOND TREE" TELLS THE
STORIES OF VARIOUS PEOPLE
TRAINED IN VARIOUS DISCIPLINES
LIKE PHYSICS, GENETICS,
BIOCHEMISTRY, MICROBIOLOGY, AND
SHOW HOW THEY WRENCH THEMSELVES
FROM ONE WAY OF THINKING ABOUT
LIFE INTO A NEW ONE, FINDING
NEW METAPHORS AND TOOLS FROM
OTHER DISCIPLINES.
ONE AFTER ANOTHER, STARTING
WITH DARWIN IN HIS VERY FIRST
SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE, THESE
BIOLOGISTS HAVE CREATED AND
DESTROYED DOGMAS ABOUT THE
NATURE OF NATURE.
THE CURRENT CROP IS TURNING
EVERYTHING WE THINK WE KNOW
ABOUT DEVELOPMENT UPSIDE DOWN.
THOSE OF US WHO WENT TO SCHOOL
BEFORE 1996, THINK THE
DEVELOPMENT OF A HUMAN BEING
ONLY PROCEEDS IN A FATEFUL LINE
FROM FERTILISATION THROUGH EVER
GREATER SPECIALISATION OF
CELLS, TO DEATH.
BUT YOU'RE WRONG.
BIOLOGICAL SCIENTISTS HAVE
SHOWN THERE ARE MANY WAYS THAT
LIFE CAN DEVELOP THAT DO NOT
INVOLVE FERTILISATION, A BABY,
OR DEATH.
IN ISRAEL FOR EXAMPLE,
DEVELOPMENTAL EXPERIMENTS HAVE
BEEN DONE, COMBINING THE HUMAN
AND THE ANIMAL.
HUMAN EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS ARE
ENCOURAGED TO BECOME EARLY
NEURONS WHICH ARE THEN PUT
INSIDE THE BRAINS OF BABY MICE
WHERE THEY INTEGRATED
BEAUTIFULLY.
HUMAN EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS WERE
ALSO ENCOURAGED TO BECOME
HEART-LIKE CELLS THAT WERE
MIXED WITH THE HEART CELLS OF
RATS.
BOTH BEAT AS HEART CELLS WILL
DO, BUT THESE BEAT AT ONE
RHYTHM.
THESE PACE MAKER HUMAN CELLS
HAVE RECENTLY BEEN PLACED IN
THE HEARTS OF PIGS, WITH
ARRHYTHMIAS, WHERE THEY ACTED
AS PACE MAKERS FOR THE PIGS'
HEARTS.
THE HEAD OF THE ETHICS
COMMITTEE EXAMINING THESE
THINGS IN ISRAEL, TELLS ME HE
HAS NO PROBLEM WITH THIS, NOR
WITH THE IDEA OF CLONING A
HUMAN BEING, OR USING A COW'S
EGG TO DO IT.
THE FACT THAT
THIS CAN BE DONE, THAT HUMAN
CHROMOSOMES CAN WORK IN COW'S
EGGS, THAT CELLS FROM HUMANS
AND RATS, HUMAN AND MOUSE, CAN
DEVELOP TOGETHER INTO ONE
FUNCTIONAL ANIMAL, THAT GENES
FROM SHEEP AND MICE AND HUMAN
AND WORM, CAN BE DROPPED INTO
EGGS TO PRODUCE ANIMALS WITH
REALLY INTERESTING PROPERTIES.
IT MAKES ME
INCREDIBLY NERVOUS, IN FACT, IT
MAKES MY HANDS SWEAT.
THE SPECIES BARRIER JUST
DOESN'T REALLY EXIST ANY MORE
FOR CONTEMPORARY BIOLOGISTS.
THE POLITICAL DEBATES AROUND
ALL THIS STUFF ARE MAINLY STUCK
STILL IN THE 19th CENTURY.
IN THE 19th CENTURY IT WAS
DECIDED THAT AN EMBRYO SHOULD
BE DEFINED AS THE PRODUCT OF
THE UNION OF AN EGG AND SPERM.
BUT BIOLOGISTS CAN MAKE
ORGANISMS THAT FUNCTION LIKE
EMBRYOS, USING ALTERED EGGS AND
AN ELECTRIC SHOCK AND NO SPERM.
THESE ORGANISMS CAN BECOME, AN
IMMORTAL LINE OF CELLS,
RUDIMENTARY TISSUES OR ORGANS,
OR THEY CAN BE PUT INTO A
UTERUS TO MAKE A LIVE HUMAN
BEING, OR A LIVE BEING OF SOME
SORT.
IN ADDITION, CELLS WITH THE
CAPACITIES TO BECOME MOST OF
THE KINDS OF CELLS WE HAVE IN
THE BODY HAVE BEEN FOUND IN THE
ALREADY SPECIALISED TISSUES OF
ADULT MAMMALS, INCLUDING IN
BRAINS, NOSES, EVEN IN HUMAN
SKIN.
UP UNTIL A FEW YEARS AGO, THE
IDEA THAT THERE MIGHT BE THESE
UNDEVELOPED BLANK CELLS JUST
LYING AROUND WAITING FOR
ORDERS, WAS CONSIDERED
RIDICULOUS.
PERHAPS ONE DAY WE'LL BE ABLE
TO TURN THESE STEM CELLS, THESE
ADULT CELLS, BACK INTO EGG
CELLS.
PERHAPS ONE DAY WE'LL LEARN
THAT ANY CELL CAN BE RETURNED
TO THE DEVELOPMENTAL START
POINT IF IT'S PLACED IN THE
RIGHT CONTEXT.
BUT HERE'S THE PROBLEM.
NO ONE CAN SAY HOW THESE
ORGANISMS SHOULD BE TREATED.
ARE THEY JUST A COLLECTION OF
CELLS?
ARE THEY HUMAN BEINGS?
ARE HUMAN BEINGS SACRED AT
EVERY STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT, OR
JUST AFTER BIRTH?
LIFE, AS THE HINDUS TELL US, IS
A CIRCLE OF CREATION AND
DESTRUCTION.
OR AS SYDNEY BRENNER, WHO HAS
INVENTED SO MUCH OF THIS
REVELATIONARY BIOLOGY LIKES TO
SAY, WE'RE A COLLECTION OF
CELLS AND A CELL IS A MACHINE
MADE UP OF SMALLER MACHINES
THAT ASSEMBLE AND DISASSEMBLE
UNDER RULES SO SIMPLE EVEN A
BRAINLESS CELL CAN FIGURE OUT
WHAT TO DO.
OUT OF EXTREME SIMPLICITY OVER
3 BILLION YEARS, AN IMMENSE
KLUGE HAS EMERGED.
LIFE IS VERY OLD, AND IT'S VERY
CRAFTY.
IT'S FULL OF TRICKS AND
SURPRISES, AND EVERY
CONCEIVABLE OPTION FOR CHANGE
HAS ALREADY BEEN TRIED.
THE REAL CONSTANT IS CHANGE, SO
IS THERE ANY PROBLEM WITH US
MESSING AROUND WITH LIFE?
"THE SECOND TREE" TELLS YOU THE
STORIES OF CLONERS, AND
GENETICISTS AND STEM CELL
TWEAKERS.
YOU MEET A GUY CALLED MICHAEL
BISHOP WHO CHURNS OUT CLONED
FARM ANIMALS LIKE MODEL T'S ON
AN ASSEMBLY LINE, OR AT LEAST
HE DID UNTIL HIS COMPANY RAN
OUT OF MONEY.
YOU MEET A GUY NAMED MICHAEL
WEST WHO'S TRYING TO DEFEAT
DEATH, AND WHO MAY HAVE FOUND A
WAY TO AT LEAST RADICALLY
EXTEND LIFE THROUGH CLONING.
MICHAEL WEST, HOWEVER, WAS
OVERTAKEN IN HIS SEARCH FOR THE
HOLY GRAIL.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF A HUMAN
EGG INTO A CLONED EMBRYO
WITHOUT SPERM.
HE WAS BEATEN TO THE PUNCH BY A
GROUP OF SOUTH KOREAN
VETERINARIANS.
THEN THERE'S JAMES D. WATSON,
THE GENETICIST WHO FIRST
DESCRIBED THE SHAPE OF DNA AND
NOW WANTS BIOLOGISTS TO RESHAPE
HUMAN BEINGS, TO GET RID OF BAD
GENES AND ENHANCE OUR
CAPACITIES.
HE WASN'T WILLING TO BE
INTERVIEWED, SO I JUST STALKED
HIM.
[Audience Laughter]
I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT
MY SENIOR COLLEAGUES IN
JOURNALISM, HOW WE GO AFTER
THESE SUBJECTS, ABOUT WHETHER
WE PURSUE THEM WITH THE KIND OF
VIGOUR THAT WE SHOULD, AND I
HAVE TO SAY THAT WE DON'T.
I ALSO WANT TO SAY THAT IT'S UP
TO JOURNALISTS TO REALLY LOOK
AT THIS REVELATIONARY BIOLOGY
STRAIGHT IN THE EYE, AND ASK,
IN WHOSE INTEREST IS PUBLIC AND
SHAREHOLDER MONEY BEING SPENT,
AND ON WHAT?
WHO SHOULD DECIDE WHAT'S SAFE
TO TRY, WHAT'S GOOD SCIENCE,
AND WHAT'S A NIGHTMARE THAT
SHOULD BE SUPPRESSED.
WHAT ARE THE CONFLICTS OF
INTEREST, THE CONFLICTS OF
ETHICS AMONG DECISION MAKERS?
WHY AREN'T THEY FULLY DISCLOSED
ON THE PUBLIC RECORD?
OUR GOVERNMENT IN CANADA
RECENTLY PASSED A BILL
OUTLAWING HUMAN CLONING, GENE
THERAPY AND HUMAN-ANIMAL
CHIMERAS.
BUT A CLOSE READING OF THAT
BILL SHOWS THAT IT, IN FACT,
PERMITS THE MAKING OF ANIMAL-
HUMAN CHIMERAS, AND IT HAS A
CLAUSE ABOUT MAKING EMBRYOS FOR
THE PURPOSE OF TEACHING, THAT
IS SO BROAD A TRUCK COULD DRIVE
THROUGH IT.
POLITICIANS IN THE HOUSE AND
THE SENATE COMMITTEES WHO DEALT
WITH THIS LAW, ABROGATED THEIR
RESPONSIBILITY TO UNDERSTAND
THE SCIENCE THAT THEY WERE
TRYING TO REGULATE.
THE RESULT IS AN IMPERFECT
BILL.
IT WON'T STOP WHAT THEY'RE SO
AFRAID OF, AND WHICH I HAVE TO
TELL YOU IS REALLY PRETTY
INNOCUOUS, AND THAT'S HUMAN
CLONING.
HUMAN CLONING IS GOING TO
HAPPEN, IT'S JUST GOING TO
HAPPEN ELSEWHERE.
HOWEVER THIS BILL WILL PERMIT
THINGS THAT STILL MAKE ME QUAKE
IN MY BOOTS.
SO THIS BOOK WAS NOT WRITTEN
FOR SCIENTISTS.
IT WAS WRITTEN
FOR ME, SO I COULD THINK MY WAY
AND LEARN MY WAY THROUGH THIS
MATERIAL THAT I FOUND MYSELF
FASCINATED BY.
IT'S ALSO WRITTEN FOR ARTISTS
AND FOR WRITERS, WHO MAY NOT
HAVE THE PATIENCE TO READ THE
SCIENCE FOR THEMSELVES, BUT
WILL BE DIPPING INTO THIS
REVELATIONARY BIOLOGY FOR
GENERATIONS TO COME, STEALING
FROM IT, IMAGES, PLOT, STORY,
CHARACTER.
JUST THE WAY
OUR NEOLITHIC ANCESTORS DID
WHEN THEY WERE LEARNING FROM
AGRICULTURE AND HUSBANDRY, TO
MAKE IMAGES OF CHIMERAS TO
SHAPE THEIR OWN MYTHS AND THEIR
OWN STORIES.
LET ME READ TO YOU JUST A
LITTLE BIT FROM THE
INTRODUCTION.
THIS IS WHERE I FIRST SAW THAT
FIRST VERY STRANGE ANIMAL
FORMED OF TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF
GENETIC PARENTS.
"A TINY WOMAN, CALL HER MS. G.
LED ME BRISKLY DOWN THE HALL TO
AN ELEVATOR.
HER BOSS, ANDRAS NAGY, HEAD OF
HIS OWN LABORATORY AT THE
SAMUEL LUNENFELD RESEARCH
INSTITUTE AT MOUNT SINAI
HOSPITAL IN TORONTO, HAD ASKED
HER TO SHOW ME HOW MICE
CHIMERAS WERE MADE.
SHE HAD BEEN CHURNING THEM OUT
FOR HIM AND HIS STUDENTS FOR
MOST OF A DECADE.
NAGY HAD INVENTED THE FIRST,
SUCCESSFUL METHOD FOR CLONING
MICE, CALLED TETRAPLOID
AGGREGATION, IN 1993.
I FOUND HIS NAME ON A LIST OF
THOSE GETTING MOUSE STEM CELL
RESEARCH FUNDING FROM THE
CANADIAN INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
RESEARCH.
I HAD NEVER HEARD OF THE SAMUEL
LUNENFELD RESEARCH INSTITUTE
UNTIL I CALLED NAGY, EVEN
THOUGH IT'S BETWEEN THE
MATERNITY FLOORS AT MOUNT
SINAI, WHERE I GAVE BIRTH TO
BOTH MY CHILDREN.
I'M SURE I NOTICED THE RESEARCH
SIGN IN THE ELEVATOR, BOTH
TIMES I WENT UP, LAMAZE PILLOW
CLUTCHED IN MY FINGERS, AND
BOTH TIMES I WENT DOWN WITH MY
BABIES, BUT I NEVER IMAGINED
THAT A PART OF THE HOSPITAL IS
GIVEN OVER TO THE STUDY OF THE
BIRTH AND DEATH OF THOUSANDS OF
MICE.
NOT FAR FROM NAGY'S LAB IS THE
OFFICE AND LAB OF ALAN
BERNSTEIN, PRESIDENT OF THE
CANADIAN INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
RESEARCH, WHICH HAS CLOSE TO
3/4 OF A BILLION DOLLARS OF
PUBLIC GRANT MONEY TO HAND OUT
EACH YEAR, AND A MANDATE TO
MAKE CANADIAN HEALTH RESEARCH
THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
NAGY'S SENIOR COLLEAGUE, JANET
ROSSANT HAD JUST BEEN GIVEN
21.5 MILLION BY THE NOTORIOUSLY
STINGY GOVERNMENTS OF CANADA
AND ONTARIO, TO EXPAND THE USE
OF THE MOUSE IN BIOLOGICAL
RESEARCH.
THE MOUSE IS CONSIDERED A GREAT
MODEL ORGANISM.
WE CAN LEARN MUCH ABOUT
OURSELVES BY STUDYING IT.
Its LIFESPAN IS SHORT, AND IT
PRODUCES MANY OFFSPRING
QUICKLY, WHICH MAKES IT GOOD
FOR THE STUDY OF GENETICS AND
DEVELOPMENT.
IT ALSO HAS A GENOME, THE TERM
USED NOW TO DESCRIBE THE
TOTALITY OF AN ORGANISM'S DNA
THAT IS CLOSELY COMPARABLE TO
OURS.
IT'S BEEN LESS THAN 100 MILLION
YEARS SINCE WE DIVERGED FROM A
COMMON ANCESTOR.
AND AS A RESULT, VAST STRETCHES
OF OUR DNA ARE VIRTUALLY
IDENTICAL.
BEST OF ALL, ONE CAN DO SOME
THINGS TO MICE THAT CANNOT BE
DONE TO PEOPLE, AND FEW WILL
OBJECT.
I FOLLOWED MS G. AND HER
BOUNCING EARRINGS INTO THE
ELEVATOR WHICH TOOK US TO
ANOTHER FLOOR.
I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU WHICH
ONE.
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN THE
UNITED STATES HAVE DONE THINGS
THAT HAVE MADE SOME RESEARCHERS
AFRAID.
THE ELEVATOR DOOR OPENED TO A
LONG HALL.
AT THE OTHER END, ANOTHER DOOR
REQUIRED A SPECIAL ACCESS CODE.
IN A SMALL ANTEROOM, THERE WAS
A BIN OF LITTLE PAPER BOOTIES,
MS G. SHOWED ME HOW TO SLIP A
BOOTIE OVER ONE FOOT AND STEP
DOWN INSIDE THE CLEAN SQUARE
MARKED WITH TAPE ON THE FLOOR.
THEN, WHILE BALANCING LIKE A
STORK, STICK ANOTHER BOOTIE ON
THE OTHER FOOT, AND PUT THAT
FOOT DOWN WITHIN THE SQUARE.
FEET COVERED SO WE WOULDN'T
TRACK IN DIRT, WE ENTERED THE
MOUSE LABS.
BEHIND THE LAST LOCKED DOOR,
THE WINDOWLESS HALL WAS BRIGHT
AND WIDE.
THE MAIN LAB AREA WAS LIKE MOST
OF THE OTHERS I WOULD VISIT
OVER THE NEXT YEAR.
THERE WERE A NUMBER OF LARGE
MICROSCOPES SET AT VARIOUS
STATIONS ON THE SPOTLESS
COUNTERS THAT GIRDLED THE ROOM.
THERE WAS A WARMING INCUBATOR,
READY TO HOLD THE EMBRYOS MS G.
WAS ABOUT TO ALTER.
THERE WERE BOTTLES OF BUFFERS,
OILS, SPECIALLY FILTERED
MEDIUM.
EACH WORK AREA HAD ITS SET OF
SCALPELS, FORCEPS, STERILE
GLOVES, AND GLASS TUBES SET OUT
BESIDE BUNSEN BURNERS.
WHEN HEATED, THE GLASS PIPETTES
STRETCH OUT INTO LONG, HOLLOW
WANDS AS THIN AS A HAIR.
AND OF COURSE, THERE WAS A
STAND, PILED WITH SMALL, STEEL
WIRED CAGES WITH WATER BOTTLES
ATTACHED TO THEIR TOPS.
CAGES CONTAINING TINY MICE,
SOME WHITE, SOME GREY, SOME
BROWN, WHO CRAWLED ALL OVER
EACH OTHER.
THERE'S A CERTAIN SMELL IN A
MOUSE LAB.
NOT UNPLEASANT, NOT PLEASANT
EITHER.
BUT IT WAS SOMETHING I WANTED
TO SCRUB OFF LATER WHEN I
NOTICED PEOPLE'S HEADS TURNING
WHEN I GOT ON THE SUBWAY.
"ARE YOU SQUEAMISH?" ASKED MS
G. WITH A WARM RUSSIAN FLOURISH
OF Rs AND VOWELS.
"NO," I SAID, "I DON'T THINK
SO."
THIS WAS A SMALL LIE.
THE IDEA OF TOUCHING A HUMAN
EYEBALL SENDS SHIVERS UP AND
DOWN MY SPINE.
BUT I'M CERTAINLY NOT AS
SQUEAMISH AS SOME.
WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, I WORKED
IN THE LAB OF MY FATHER'S
MEDICAL OFFICE, HELPING HIS
TECHNICIAN DO SIMPLE THINGS
LIKE BLOOD COUNTS.
ONCE I HAD TO HELP HER HEAVE A
6 FOOT ADULT MALE BACK INTO THE
LAB CHAIR AFTER SHE PRICKED HIS
FINER TO SQUEEZE OUT A DROP OF
BLOOD.
HE HAD SLID, BONELESS ONTO THE
FLOOR IN A DEAD FAINT.
"GOOD," SAID MS G., "WE WILL
SACRIFICE THE MOUSE THIS WAY."
BEFORE I
REALISED WHAT SHE MEANT, SHE
HAD A MOUSE OUT OF A CAGE, AND
A STIFF PIECE OF METAL FRAME
THAT NORMALLY HELD A LABEL, IN
HER OTHER HAND.
SHE PLACED THE MOUSE BELLY DOWN
ON THE CAGE LID, WHERE IT
SQUIRMED.
WITH THE
MOUSE'S HEAD HELD FIRMLY BY THE
METAL FRAME, SHE YANKED SHARPLY
ON ITS TAIL AS IF SHE WAS
POPPING OPEN A PARTY FAVOUR.
JUST LIKE THAT, THE MOUSE DIED.
THE OTHER MICE BELOW, SEEMED TO
CRAWL AROUND A WHOLE LOT
FASTER.
THIS MOUSE AND THE OTHER FIVE
SHE PROCEEDED TO "SACRIFICE,"
HAD, SHE INFORMED ME, BEEN
PLUGGED TWO NIGHTS EARLIER,
MATED TO MALES.
THEIR FERTILISED EGGS, NOW
EMBRYOS, WOULD BE MOVING DOWN
TOWARD THEIR UTERUSES.
SHE WOULD CATCH THEM, REMOVE
THEM AND USE THEM TO MAKE HER
CHIMERAS.
THESE EMBRYOS WOULD BE 2.5 DAYS
OLD, AND WOULD THEREFORE HAVE
FORMED A MORULA, A ROUND BALL
OF PERHAPS 8 TO 16 CELLS
SURROUNDED BY A THIN CELL
CALLED THE ZONA PELLUCIDA.
THE MORULA WOULD NOT YET HAVE
COMPACTED.
AT THAT POINT, THE CELLS ON THE
OUTSIDE OF THE BALL WOULD
BECOME COMMITTED TO FORMING, AT
THE BLASTOSIS STAGE,
TROFECTODERM, THE MATERIAL THAT
BECOMES THE PLACENTA.
ALL THE INNER CELLS FROM WHICH
STEM CELLS EMERGE UNDER THE
RIGHT CONDITIONS WOULD BE ABLE
TO MAKE ANY KIND OF TISSUE
EXCEPT PLACENTA.
SHE WOULD EXTRACT THESE EARLY
EMBRYOS, REMOVE THEIR ZONA
PELLUCIDAE WITH A LITTLE PUFF
OF ACID, WASHING EACH EMBRYO IN
WARM SALT WATER SOLUTION, SHE
WOULD LATER PUT EACH ONE IN A
SEPARATE DEPRESSION IN A PETRIE
DISH, THEN ADD TO EACH ONE, A
GENETICALLY MODIFIED STEM CELL
TAKEN FROM ANOTHER MOUSE'S
DEVELOPING EMBRYO.
THE STEM CELLS ARE MARKED WITH
INSERTED FISH GENES.
UNDER THE RIGHT LIGHT, ALL THE
CELLS AND TISSUES THAT ARE
DAUGHTERS OF THESE STEM CELLS
WILL GLOW GREEN.
THE EMBRYO AND THE STEM CELL
WILL STICK TOGETHER.
EVEN WITHOUT A PROTECTIVE ZONA
PELLUCIDA, WHEN PLACED BACK
INTO A RECEPTIVE MOUSE UTERUS,
THEY WILL LIKELY DEVELOP
TOGETHER AS ONE CHIMERIC MOUSE.
IN FACT THE ORIGINAL EMBRYO
CELLS AND THE FOREIGN STEM CELL
WILL COMPETE FOR DOMINANCE AS
THEY DIVIDE AND DIFFERENTIATE
INTO SPECIALISED TISSUES, EVEN
AS THEY CO-OPERATE TO FORM A
NEW MOUSE.
MS G'S BOSS, NAGY, AND HIS
COLLEAGUE ROSSANT, HAD CREATED
THIS METHOD OF MOUSE MAKING AS
A DEVELOPMENTAL STUDY TOOL.
THE STEM CELLS GENES CAN BE
ALTERED WITH VARIOUS MARKERS.
ONE CAN DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE
DESCENDENTS OF THE STEM CELLS
AND THE EMBRYO'S CELLS IN THE
DEVELOPING MOUSE BY THEIR
COLOURS, AND CAN DEMONSTRATE
THE EXACT SEQUENCE AND PATHWAY
OF EACH STEM CELL'S DAUGHTER
CELLS, AS THE MOUSE GROWS.
ONE CAN WATCH HOW THE
ALTERATION, THE DESIGNED
MUTATION AFFECTS DEVELOPMENT.
THIS METHOD DOESN'T WORK ON ALL
MICE.
NOBODY KNOWS WHY.
MS G. HAD SPENT YEARS WORKING
OUT HER RECIPE, AND AS IN ALL
RECIPES, THE HAND OF THE COOK
MATTERS.
NOBODY KNOWS WHY THAT IS,
EITHER.
SHE TOOK THE SIX DEAD MICE OVER
TO HER WORK AREA.
SHE LAID OUT A SURGICAL PAD AND
PLACED THE MICE THERE ON THEIR
BACKS.
THE FIRST MOUSE'S HIND LEGS
TWITCHED FEEBLY.
I FELT A PANG OF PITY.
I WAS WORRIED SHE WAS ABOUT TO
CUT OPEN A LIVE ANIMAL.
I POINTED AT IT.
"IT'S MOVING," I SAID.
"DON'T WORRY," SHE SAID, AS SHE
SNIPPED HERE AND THERE, AND
PULLED OFF THE MOUSE'S SKIN IN
ONE SWIFT MOTION.
"IT'S DEAD."
I WATCHED HER SLIT OPEN THE
DEAD ANIMAL'S STOMACH, MOVE
ASIDE IT’S BOWEL, PULL UP THE
UTERUS, CUT TWICE BETWEEN THE
OVARY AND THE ERUS TO DISSECT
OUT THE OVIDUCT.
SHE HELD THE GLITTERING PIECE
OF TISSUE UNDER THE MICROSCOPE,
AND WASHED SEVERAL EMBRYOS OUT
WITH A SPRITZ OF FILTERED
MEDIUM PUSHED THROUGH THE TIP
OF A NEEDLE.
SHE EXAMINED THE EMBRYOS
CARFULLY, DISCARDING THOSE
THAT APPEARED TO HER EYE, TO BE
LESS THAN HEALTHY.
SHE WAS UNHAPPY WITH THE LOW
NUMBER OF USEFUL MORULAE.
PLACING MY EYE TO THE SCOPE,
MAKING DAMN SURE I DID NOT
TOUCH IT WITH MY CLUMSY HANDS,
ALL I COULD SEE WAS A BLACK
LINE DESCRIBING A SPHERE, A
SPACE, AND THEN A GROUP OF MUCH
SMALLER TINY BALLS WITHIN.
THAT'S ALL EACH MORULA AMOUNTED
TO.
A THIN BLACK LINE OUTLINING A
SPHERE, GRAINY LITTLE BALLS
THAT APPEARED TO BE HOLLOW.
INCREDIBLE TO IMAGINE THAT THIS
LITTLE BIT OF NOTHING ADDED UP
TO ALL THAT'S NEEDED TO MAKE A
LIVE MOUSE.
SHE MOVED, SWIFTLY, QUIETLY
FROM MOUSE TO MICROSCOPE, MOUSE
TO MICROSCOPE, FINALLY SHE'D
REMOVED THE ZONA PELLUCIDAE
FROM ALL THE USEFUL EMBRYOS AND
PLACED EACH IN ITS PROPER
DEPRESSION IN A DISH, WITH A
STEM CELL ADDED ON TOP, JUST
SO, THE WHOLE THING PROTECTED
BY OIL.
THESE STEM CELLS HAD BEEN
TRANSFECTED WITH A JELLYFISH
GENE WHICH HAD INSINUATED
ITSELF INTO THE STEM CELLS DNA.
THESE ALTERED CELLS HAD BEEN
LAID OUT IN A DISH, AND GROWN
IN A CULTURING MEDIUM AS A STEM
CELL LINE.
I HAD SEEN
THESE STEM CELLS BEING PREPARED
UPSTAIRS.
I HAD LOOKED AT THEM, TOO,
UNDER A MICROSCOPE.
THERE SEEMED TO BE NOTHING
SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THEM AT ALL.
THEY ALSO LOOKED LIKE A GRAINY
GROUP OF TINY SPHERES.
MS G. PLACED
THE FINISHED DISH IN THE
INCUBATOR.
THERE WAS A LITTLE LAPTOP
COMPUTER SET UP IN A CORNER.
SHE SHOWED ME IMAGES OF THE
STRANGE ORGANS AND ANIMALS THAT
HAVE EMERGED FROM THIS WORK.
"YOU'LL SEE," SHE SAID,
CLICKING THE MOUSE TO BRING UP
IMAGE AFTER COLOURED IMAGE.
"THE MORULA STAGE, THE STEM
CELLS."
SHE STOPPED AT ONE THAT FILLED
THE SCREEN.
IT WAS A MOUSE HEART, PULLED
FROM THE CHEST OF A CHIMERIC
ANIMAL.
THE MOUSE HAD BEEN MADE WITH
TWO DIFFERENT COLOUR MARKERS
INSERTED INTO EACH OF ITS TWO
GENOMES.
AS THE MOUSE DEVELOPED, EACH OF
THE ORIGINAL CELLS, WITH THE
COLOUR MARKER GENES IN THEM,
PRODUCED DAUGHTER CELLS, AND
THE DAUGHTER CELLS PRODUCED
MORE DAUGHTER CELLS UNTIL
EVENTUALLY A MOUSE WAS BORN
WHOSE CELLS WERE ALL DAUGHTERS
OF THE ORIGINAL MARKED CELLS,
EITHER GREEN OR BLUE.
THE HEART HUNG THERE IN
CYBERSPACE, ALL ITS TISSUES
VIVID BLUE AND BRILLIANT GREEN,
THE COLOURS TWISTED AND TWINED,
BUT NEVER MIXED, AS IF THE
HEART HAD BEEN MADE FROM TWO
STICKS OF PLASTICENE.
WHAT COULD MORE GRAPHICALLY
EXPRESS WHAT I HAD WITNESSED
HERE?
THE ANIMALS SHE HAD JUST MADE,
HAD FOUR GENETIC PARENTS.
A FIFTH WOULD CARRY THEM TO
TERM.
ALL OF THEIR TISSUES WOULD BE
THE PRODUCT OF A PROFOUND
MANIPULATION, OF BOTH CO-
OPERATION AND COMPETITION FOR A
PLACE IN THE DEVELOPING MICE.
I HAD BEEN TOLD IN HIGH SCHOOL
THAT COMPETITION GOES ON AT THE
SPECIES LEVEL.
SHE'D SHOWN ME THAT IT ALSO
GOES ON AT THE LEVEL OF THE
CELL IN ANY DEVELOPING ORGANISM
AND AT THE LEVEL OF EVERY
MOLECULE, TOO.
"YOU'RE INTERESTED IN THIS?" MS
G. ASKED.
"WAIT, I WILL SHOW YOU
SOMETHING."
SHE DISAPPEARED DOWN THE HALL
INTO THE MOUSERY, SLIDING
SILENTLY IN HER BOOTIES ALONG
THE POLISHED FLOOR.
I STOOD THERE, EYES LOCKED ON
THE IMAGE OF THE BLUE AND GREEN
PLASTICENE HEART.
"HERE," SHE SAID.
SHE HELD IN FRONT OF ME A CAGE
OF MICE, SEVERAL NEWBORNS WITH
A MOTHER.
SHE TOOK TWO OF THE FURLESS
WRINKLY LITTLE THINGS IN HER
HAND, SHOWING THEIR EXPOSED
SKIN.
THEY WERE PALE, PALE PINK, THE
COLOUR OF A HEALTHY HUMAN
SCALP.
THEY NIBBLED AND NUZZLED AT
EACH OTHER AS SHE THRUST THEM
UNDER A LAMP WITH A SPECIAL
BLUE FILTER, AND TURNED IT ON.
THE PINK SKIN SUDDENLY GLOWED A
BRILLIANT YELLOW-GREEN.
SHE PUT THE MICE BACK IN THE
CAGE AND PULLED OUT THE BROWN
FURRED ADULT.
SHE PUT IT UNDER THE SAME
LIGHT.
ITS HAIRLESS EARS AND TAIL
TURNED AN AMAZING JEWEL GREEN,
THE COLOUR OF AN OAK LEAF WITH
SUNLIGHT POURING THROUGH IT.
A JELLYFISH GENE, SHE
EXPLAINED, HAD BEEN INSERTED
INTO AN EMBRYONIC MOUSE STEM
CELL THAT WAS THEN AGGREGATED
WITH AN EMBRYO JUST AS SHE HAD
DONE THIS MORNING.
THE STEM CELL HAD FOUND ITS WAY
TO THE GERM LINE, THE CELLS
THAT WILL BECOME EITHER EGG OR
SPERM OF THE DEVELOPING MOUSE.
THE OFFSPRING OF THAT MOUSE ALL
HAVE THE JELLYFISH GENE, AND
WILL PASS THE COLOUR OF A
BACKLIT FOREST CANOPY TO THEIR
DESCENDANTS.
I CAME HOME ON THE SUBWAY THAT
DAY, BARELY ABLE TO CONTAIN MY
EXCITEMENT.
THIS WORK WAS TERRIFYING, THIS
WORK WAS MAGNIFICENT.
IT WAS ALSO, FOR THE FIRST
TIME, REAL TO ME.
UNTIL THAT TIME, I HAD BEEN
IPPING NEWS STORIES, READING
JOURNAL ARTICLES, BUT NOW I HAD
SEEN GLOWING, CHANGED, LIVING
THINGS.
THESE ANIMALS RUNNING THEIR A
CAGE IN A HOSPITAL, MY OWN
HOSPITAL, A PLACE THAT WAS SO
FAMILIAR AND SO SAFE, COULD
NEVER HAVE DEVELOPED IN THE
NATURAL COURSE OF THINGS.
I STOPPED NEIGHBOURS IN THE
STREET, TO TELL THEM WHAT I HAD
SEEN, THESE-- THE GREEN AND
BLUE HEART, BIZARRE COLOURED
MICE, THESE CHIMERAS.
THEY LOOKED AT ME UNMOVED AS
THOUGH I WAS BABBLING IN A
DREAM.
I WANTED TO SHOUT, "DON'T YOU
SEE WHAT'S GOING ON?
CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT WE'RE
BECOMING?
WE CAN MAKE LIVING THINGS IN
WHATEVER SHAPE OR COLOUR WE
WANT.
WE CAN MAKE LIFE REVEAL ALL ITS
SECRETS.
MAYBE WE DON'T HAVE TO DIE."
I CALMED DOWN OVER DINNER.
I EXPLAINED TO MY FAMILY THAT
BIOLOGY HAD BECOME
UNRECOGNISABLE.
THE SEPARATE DISCIPLINES I
REMEMBERED, FROM ONLY 35 YEARS
AGO, BOTANY, ZOOLOGY, GENETICS,
BIOCHEMISTRY, EVOLUTIONARY
THEORY, DEVELOPMENT, SEEM TO
HAVE MERGED.
IN 150 YEARS, BIOLOGICAL
SCIENCE HAD EVOLVED FROM
DARWIN'S AND MENDEL'S SIMPLE
ATTEMPTS TO OBSERVE THE LAWS
GOVERNING CHANGE, TO THIS
ROILING STEW OF COMPLEXITY.
SUCH 18th
CENTURY CLASSIFICATIONS, AS THE
DEFINITION OF A SPECIES, THE
CAPACITY TO BREED AND GET
VIABLE OFFSPRI, WERE
COMPLETELY BESIDE THE POINT IF
ONE COULD MAKE CHIMERAS BY
FUSING EMBRYOS OF DIFFERENT
SPECIES IN A DISH, AS HAS
ALREADY BEEN DONE, WHEN
SCIENTISTS IN BRITAIN
MANUFACTURED A GEEP, A CHIMERA
OF A GOAT AND A SHEEP.
AND WHEN THE
GENES OF FISH AND BACTERIA AND
MICE CAN BE COMBINED IN ANIMAL
OR PLANT, WHEN STEM CELLS CAN
BE PRODUCED IN INFINITE
NUMBERS, WHEN ADULT CELLS CAN
BE TURNED BACK TO THE START
POINT, THE EQUIVALENT OF
POURING SPILLED FLOUR BACK INTO
A BAG, THEN BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE
HAS BECOME A KIND OF
REVELATION.
THIS IDEA OF BIOLOGY AS
REVELATION, MADE ME READ AGAIN
AND AGAIN, THE SAD TALE OF ADAM
AND EVE.
THEIR STORY WELDS THE INVENTION
OF THE FIRST BIO-TECHNOLOGY,
THE USE OF LEAVES TO COVER
NAKEDNESS, TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF
GOOD AND EVIL, AND BOTH TO
THEIR FALL FROM GRACE.
FOR THE FIRST TIME I NOTICED
THAT THE STORY DEALS WITH TWO
TREES, NOT JUST ONE.
THEY EAT THE FRUIT OF THE
FIRST, BUT IT'S THE SECOND TREE
THAT MATTERS.
THE TREE OF LIFE.
THIS IS WHAT GOD SOUGHT TO
PROTECT BY EJECTING THE PARENTS
OF HUMANKIND FROM THE GARDEN OF
EDEN, SETTING CHERUBIM AND A
FIERY TURNING SWORD AT THE GATE
TO GUARD IT FROM US, LEST
FLAWED HUMAN BEINGS ALSO EAT OF
THE SECOND TREE, AND LIVE LIKE
GOD FOREVER.
AT SOME POINT THE CHERUBIM AND
THE FIERY TURNING SWORD MUST
HAVE LEFT THEIR POST.
BECAUSE BIOLOGISTS ARE
DEFINITELY SWARMING ALL OVER
THIS TREE OF LIFE.
THEY'RE GRAFTING ON NEW
BRANCHES, MEDDLING WITH THE
TREE'S MOLECULES, STRETCHING
OUT THEIR HANDS TO EAT AND TO
LIVE FOREVER.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
WHERE WILL IT END?
WHO WILL MAKE RULES FOR THEM AS
THEY EXTEND THEIR DOMINION OVER
ALL FORMS OF LIFE.
NO JOURNALIST, ESPECIALLY ONE
LIKE ME, SLIDING DOWN THE DARK
SIDE OF 50, COULD WALK AWAY
FROM A STORY LIKE THAT."

[Applause]

Watch: Elaine Dewar on her book The Second Tree