Posted by: Dan | March 8, 2009

Cells, Development, and Politics

In case you haven’t gotten the memo, tomorrow Pres. Obama will reportedly reverse the ban on stem cell research. Good. No, not because of some political reason, or the promise of a cure for some disease, but for the intrinsic potential for discovery, and the the remarkable but unexpected places that such discoveries can take science and medicine.

For a tidbit of education on the topic of developmental biology, check out this video lecture by Lewis Wolpert on The Edge: How our limbs are patterned like the French flag. The clip is pretty short, and in it, Wolpert nicely describes how cells are known to orient themselves during differentiation and morphogenesis. As the title suggests, he spends most of the short talk speaking about limb development specifically, but he opens with a very relevant comment about the political side of developmental biology [emphasis mine]:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop”, he says. “I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being. The cells divide and the question I’m going to deal with a little bit here…how do the cells know what to do. So, how do they end up looking like … you? It is amazing that you come from one single cell. I’m sorry to give you a lesson in embryology but you should know how you develop.”



  1. It’s great to finally see America fall in line with other countries on this issue. And I completely agree, the room for discovery once the shackles have been removed from Scientists in the field will lead to great things. Knowledge and the potential for discovery should not be kept in a box, Obama is well on his way to becoming a milestone achiever with his stance on Science. Let’s hope it continues!


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