Conversation Series on the History and Philosophy of the Germline
Author: Linda Howard
In January, the Center for Biology and Society hosted Kate MacCord and her colleague B. Duygu Özpolat of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for discussions about their current research. MacCord, an ASU Biology and Society graduate, first spoke at the Bioethics Breakfast Club in a discussion titled “A Crucial Flaw in the Genome Editing Debate: The Germline/Soma Distinction.” Her discussion prefaced the Conservation Series presentation of “History and Philosophy of the Germline” in which Duygu and Kate theorized that historic assumptions about the inviolability of Weissman’s Barrier are perhaps flawed. They elaborated on this by stating that the preferential use of canonical model organisms has resulted in a failure to consider how many other organisms can, under certain conditions, regenerate the germline in a variety of ways, including converting somatic cells into germline cells.
This ability, across several organismal lineages, gives rise to questions about how soma-to-germline regeneration occurs and what this can tell us about the relationship between soma and germline. In her portion of the presentation, Kate introduced concerns about the possible consequences of somatic gene editing while Duygu spoke about her work studying the molecular mechanisms of germ cell regeneration in marine worms. As part of their initiative funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, Kate and Duygu are working with a team who are considering whether conditions exist under which somatic cells will convert to germline and whether we should be moving forward with interventions in humans before we know if those gene edits are heritable. During a lively discussion, the panelists and audience considered both the probability of soma-to-germline regeneration in humans and the possible risks of proceeding without a clearer understanding of the societal implications.
This was the first Conversation Series event of the spring 2020 semester.
Conversation Series events create opportunities for the ASU community to engage in discussions about an interesting topic that often extends beyond usual academic work. This spring, the Conversations focus on aspects of “Knowledge, Decision- making, and Governance”.