The Floating University

Video Quiz

Take this quiz to test your knowledge of Melton's biomedicine lecture. Find the answer key at the bottom, as well as an additional quiz on the assigned reading!

(1.) Which of the following statements would Douglas Melton most likely agree with about DNA?

  • (A.) The discovery of inheritance through genes and the subsequent discovery of DNA completely transformed biology, which now operates on the smallest possible molecular level.
  • (B.) The discovery of inheritance through genes and the subsequent discovery of DNA is only of interest to molecular biologists and certain niche fields in medicine; biomedicine still focuses on curing diseases in the same way that bacterial infections and polio were cured.
  • (C.) While the mechanics of inheritance through genes and the structure and function of DNA molecules is greatly important, these elements are not themselves alive, and the individual cell remains the most basic unit of biology.
  • (D.) All previous medical breakthroughs would have been achieved much earlier if scientists like Mendel and Jenner had understood the molecular structure and function of DNA, and now that we understand those functions well, we are on track to cure all known diseases within a few decades.

(2.) All of the following statements explain how a fertilized egg transforms into a fetus in 70 days EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Once a sperm makes its way into an egg, it is incubated by the cytoplasm inside of the egg, which allows the sperm to begin growing into a human being.
  • (B.) After fertilization occurs, individual cells within a blastocyst begin to grow rapidly in size to better accomplish specialized functions and process energy.
  • (C.) After fertilization occurs, individual cells within a blastocyst begin to differentiate from each other, with different cells transforming to perform very different functions from the original inner cell mass.
  • (D.) Once fertilized, a human egg cell begins to divide almost immediately, and those cells divide, and so forth until there are enough cells to comprise a fetus.

(3.) According to Melton, why aren’t scientists particularly interested in cloning human beings?

  • (A.) Human identical twins are already genetic duplicates, rendering manual cloning unnecessary; existing populations can be studied in the same way a human clone would be studied in comparison to its original.
  • (B.) Virtually every country in the world with a developed scientific apparatus moved quickly to ban the cloning of humans after Dolly was announced, to forestall public unrest about the notion of cloning humans.
  • (C.) The applicable biomedical techniques derived from cloning have already been learned by experimenting on animals, and cloning a human would provide no additional scientific information.
  • (D.) Many attempts have been made to clone a human being, and a fetus has never come to term. Scientists have concluded that cloning a human isn’t possible with current technology, and have little incentive to develop new procedures specifically for this purpose.

(4.) What did cloning teach scientists about the potential for biomedicine?

  • (A.) Cloning shows that during early development, organisms contain the genetic information to produce any kind of cell, body part, or even a completely new organism, but as cells differentiate during gestation, this information is lost.
  • (B.) Cloning shows that it is possible to grow an entirely new organism from the genetic information housed in every cell in the body; in the future, scientists will be able to grow an entirely new organism from your cells that you can harvest to replace your limbs and organs.
  • (C.) Cloning shows that is possible to propagate a species entirely through controlled, artificial means; most abnormalities in humans occur during early development, and in the future there will be no more birth defects or undesirable traits in the human species.
  • (D.) Cloning shows that nothing in your genes changes during development from an embryo to an adult; using genetic information in your cells, scientists should be able to re-grow any missing or damaged tissue in your body.

(5.) All of the following describe properties of both stem cells and embryonic stem cells EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Is unique from “regular” cells in the body, in that it does not have a single specialized function.
  • (B.) Is able to make more of itself, not through simple division, but through self-renewal.
  • (C.) Can produce “daughter” cells that become specialized.
  • (D.) Can produce any cell type in the human body.

(6.) Why might pluripotent stem cells provide a breakthrough for biomedical research?

  • (A.) Pluripotent stem cells can be engineered using skin cells as a base, and once they’ve been infused with the proper DNA and RNA, are completely identical to embryonic stem cells and will obviate the need to use fertilized human eggs.
  • (B.) Pluripotent stem cells can be engineered using skin cells as a base, leading to patient-specific cells that share many properties with embryonic stem cells without the moral controversy.
  • (C.) Pluripotent stem cells are essentially clones of embryonic stem cells; a single embryonic stem cell derived from a fertilized human egg can be duplicated many times over, greatly lessening the required volume of fertilized human eggs and reducing the moral hazard.
  • (D.) Pluripotent stem cells are embryonic stem cells that have been derived from fertilized animal eggs; once they’ve been infused with the proper DNA and RNA, the pluripotent cells share many, but not all, characteristics with human embryonic stem cells and can be used in many areas of research into human disease.

(7.) All of the following could be classified as degenerative diseases EXCEPT:

  • (A.) A condition in which the sufferer trains for long-distance marathons, and eventually finds that the cartilage in his knee caps has been badly eroded from years of heavy use, as the human body did not evolve to run long distances on a habitual basis.
  • (B.) A condition in which a diet of high-fat foods, like bacon and ice cream, gradually overwhelms the liver’s ability to process the inputs as cells die off, creating a life-threatening condition where normally the sufferer would just be overweight or suffer from clogged arteries.
  • (C.) A condition in which the tissue between vertebrae erodes when the sufferer performs manual labor over a long period time, causing a host of neurological problems not found in most manual laborers.
  • (D.) A condition in which the brain cells that govern the formation of new memories begin to break down, leaving the sufferer with intact long-term memories but an inability to from new ones.

(8.) How does Melton propose to treat diabetes using regenerative medicine?

  • (A.) Melton hopes to refine the process of collecting pancreatic beta cells from cadavers, allowing a single cadaver to yield enough viable beta cells to implant in three or four diabetes sufferers.
  • (B.) Melton hopes to grow new batches of pancreatic beta cells from lines of embryonic stem cells, and then implant them in diabetes sufferers.
  • (C.) Melton hopes to implant a specially encoded embryonic or pluripotent stem cell in a diabetes sufferer’s pancreas; this special stem cell will rapidly produce pancreatic beta cells, faster than the body can kill them.
  • (D.) Melton hops to use embryonic stem cells to grow patient-specific pancreases for diabetes sufferers; current transplant techniques don’t work, as patients always reject foreign pancreases.

(9.) All of the following age-associated problems can be ascribed to cellular degeneration EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Infection: the body’s immune system is made up of many parts that individually are not as strong during old age due to degeneration; pathogens introduced to the system cause much more damage and are repelled much more slowly.
  • (B.) Frailty: the tissues inside organs and bones do not replenish themselves quickly any more, leading to brittleness and weak performance.
  • (C.) Dementia: brain cells gradually die off, and are not replaced, leading to senility.
  • (D.) Cancer: the cells that regulate the normal growth of bodily tissue degenerate and are not replaced rapidly, allowing for malignant tissues to develop unchecked into tumors.

(10.) Which of the following scenarios would be most plausible using the regenerative medicine techniques Melton postulates?

  • (A.) Using embryonic stem cell technology to clone “blank” replacement versions of people, which will remain dormant until the time comes to transfer an old person’s brain into a younger body, functionally creating an immortal human being.
  • (B.) Using stem cells to greatly slow down the aging process; cells that normally replenish themselves constantly, like skin, blood, and endoderm cells, are encouraged to keep doing so far longer into life using replacement stem cells. Tissues like the brain, which never replenish, can be bolstered with replacement stem cells, but never made “immortal.”
  • (C.) Using stem cells to create an immortal human being; whenever cells begin to break down anywhere in the body, stem cells are injected to replace the damaged or missing tissue, creating a biological steady state.
  • (D.) Using embryonic stem cells to grow new skin, limbs, and organs for aging people as needed, much in the way that a car is maintained over time. Assuming that a new part could be grown and installed quickly enough, an older person could functionally become immortal.

Answer Key: (1.) A, (2.) D, (3.) C, (4.) D, (5.) A, (6.) B, (7.) D, (8.) B, (9.) C, (10.) C

Reading Quiz

This quiz is based on:

Online: Michael Sandel, "The Case Against Perfection."  Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/04/the-case-against-perfection/2927/

(1.) According to the author of “The Case Against Perfection,” which of the following statements best characterizes the flaws in the autonomy argument against designer humans?

  • (A.) A child’s life will be shaped by its genetic blueprint no matter what, so choosing genetic features is equally arbitrary as leaving it to chance as far as the child’s fate is concerned.
  • (B.) Cloning is not particularly objectionable, because the phenomenon exists in nature in the form of identical twins, but genetic enhancements have no precedent and people may well not choose enhancements if they had a choice.
  • (C.) Genetic variance is unpredictable; the genes of two unexceptional parents can produce the next Mozart, but if children are routinely designed the odds of the random generation of savants will plummet, leading to a blander world.
  • (D.) A tragedy of the commons would occur in a world with genetic trait selection; every individual family would want brainy, talented children, but on the aggregate we need a large number of average and below-average people to perform rote jobs.

(2.) All of the following are potential arguments against sex selection EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Sorting sperm between X and Y chromosome carriers to ensure a gender outcome is no morally different that disposing of fertilized eggs of the undesired gender.
  • (B.) An overwhelming preference for male children in many cultures could lead to a global gender imbalance that could destabilize societies.
  • (C.) Access to sex-selection technology will be largely determined by socio-economic status, creating a new form of inequality.
  • (D.) Examining fertilized eggs before implantation to select the desired gender is tantamount to testing a fetus for its gender and aborting if it’s the wrong one.

(3.) Which of the following statements would the author of “The Case Against Perfection” be most likely to agree with?

  • (A.) Selecting traits in children and using genetic enhancements does not differ from the natural human impulse to get the most out of our abilities and to ensure success in a competitive world.
  • (B.) Selecting traits in children and using genetic enhancements places too much emphasis on human striving and not enough appreciation for the gifts and limitations doled out by nature.
  • (C.) Selecting traits in children and using genetic enhancements is analogous to athletes using performance enhancing drugs, in that it unfairly skews the playing field toward those with access to the enhancements and the propensity to use them.
  • (D.) Selecting traits in children and using genetic enhancements is analogous to athletes using performance enhancing drugs, in that it is the outcome of competition and the realization of achievement that matters, not the means used to accomplish these ends.

(4.) All of the following statements are potential justifications for liberal eugenics EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Utilizing free market forces, the traits that become most sought after in eugenic design will be determined by rational consumers, not the state, leading to a form of capitalistic democratic agreement on how children should be designed.
  • (B.) Under liberal eugenics schemes, no one is being coerced to design her child in any particular way, and the poor and disabled will not be sterilized or otherwise segregated.
  • (C.) In a free society in which everyone shares the rewards and consequences of the genetic lottery, it makes sense for the genetic potential of all citizens to be maximized.
  • (D.) Humans have routinely used eugenic principles to improve livestock, domestic animals, and crops for thousands of years, and the taboo against improving people is largely a holdover of religious influence in secular life.

(5.) Which of the following statements best reflects the author’s view about the dangers of genetic enhancement?

  • (A.) In a world in which the best athletes, businessmen, and artists are those with genetic enhancements, an arms race will erupt as people attempt to better those enhancements and get to the head of the pack.
  • (B.) Making genetic attributes a matter of choice will cause people to feel responsible for their gifts and abilities, and thus completely self-sufficient and un-beholden to society.
  • (C.) When genetic selection in children becomes common place, social pressure will arise for parents to design their children to match the norm of their community, and children not conforming to this standard will be outcasts.
  • (D.) Biomedical science is advancing far faster than our understanding of long-term biological consequences; creating a new set of genes that makes everyone highly intelligent could also give birth to new super-diseases with the potential to wipe out the Earth’s human population.

Answer Key: (1.) A, (2.) D, (3.) B, (4.) C, (5.) B