MSNBC Host Says That Life Begins Whenever You Feel Like It Does

I lived in Great Britain for three years for my first postdoctoral research fellowship at Sussex University. To be completely honest, I never got into the whole royal family thing, but the birth of George Alexander to Prince William and Kate Middleton is certainly an event to celebrate. George has little chance of ever ascending to the throne, but he is certainly a bundle of joy to his parents and to the British people.

Therefore, I find it rebarbative that media kill joys have used the joyous birth of William and Kate’s baby to be an opportunity to talk about abortion. In addition to this, one particular pro-choice news correspondent, Melissa Harris-Perry decided to wax philosophically about the nature of the unborn.

After noting the worldwide excitement that has surrounded Kate Middleton’s pregnancy and birth, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry compared the buzz surrounding the British royal birth to Texas abortion politics, and then offered her own answer to the question “when does life begin:”

“When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents. A powerful feeling – but not science,”

News correspondents say stupid things, but this has to rank as one of the most brain-dead things I have ever heard. Let’s not forget who said it, since Melissa Harris-Perry, is the news anchor who wore tampon earrings and received Planned Parenthood’s Maggie Award.

Once the egg in the fallopian tube of the mother fuses with a sperm cell from the father, the egg undergoes a complex sequences of biochemical and cellular events that culminate in the fusion of the genetic material of the mother with that of the father. This marks the end of the process known as fertilization and the beginning of the embryonic stages of development. The embryo has begun the journey of human development, growth, and maturation that will not stop until the individual dies. The embryo is genetically distinct from the mother and the father, and is a human being, albeit, a very young human being. The embryo is not a plant, an alligator, or some facsimile or something else, it is human, but a young human. That is not a feeling, but a scientific fact.

Can we kill the embryo just because it is very young? Reflection leads me to say no, no, a thousand times no. Do we value two-year old children more than one-year old children? Do we value six-year old children more than four-year old children? Age is irrelevant to the moral worth of an individual.

But, you say, the embryo is underdeveloped relative to a new-born baby. Does the extent of development determine moral worth? Again, a one-month old baby is more developed than a two-week old baby. Does that make the one-year old baby more valuable? No. Are teenagers who are more physically developed more morally valuable than eight-year old children? No. Therefore, the extent of development is not a good measure of a human being’s moral worth.

Ms. Harris-Perry seems to thing that feelings or perhaps she means how deeply a mother wants her baby is the factor that determines if he or she should continue to live. Again I say no. This would justify genocide. The dictators of North Korea can simply say that killing their own people is due to the fact that they did not want them anymore. They had those kind of feelings you know. How about Hitler and the Third Reich and their slaughter of six million Jews and many millions of  others? Hitler and his officers killed them because they did not feel that Jews and others were worthy of life. In fact, Harris-Perry’s ethic can justify any heinous, insidious acts simply on the basis of feelings.

This is, as I have said, brain-dead and she should be called out for it. The unborn human beings are still human beings regardless of how we feel about them. That is a fact of genetics and embryology regardless of your feelings about it. If MSNBC has news correspondents that say things that are this stupid, then maybe they deserve to have such low ratings.

New Pluripotent Stem Cell Production Protein Identified

Large scale production of stem cells requires an intimate knowledge of the genetic networks that convert adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The original protocol established by Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues used four genes all clustered on a retrovirus vector, but there are safer, more technically subtle ways to make iPSCs.

Because iPSCs are made from a patient’s own cells, they are less likely to be rejected by the patient’s immune system. They also show tremendous developmental flexibility, they can potentially be differentiated into any adult cell type in the body.  The problem with iPSCs comes from the difficulty of making large quantities of them in a reasonable amount of time.  However, a new research publication from scientists at the University of Toronto, the University for Sick Children and Mount Sinai Hospital, in collaboration with colleagues from the United States and Portugal, identifies specific proteins that play central roles in controlling pluripotency that may mean a potential breakthrough in producing iPSCs.

Researchers discovered these proteins by using something called the “splicing code.”  Benjamin Blencowe discovered the splicing code a few years ago.  “The mechanisms that control embryonic stem cell pluripotency have remained a mystery for some time.  However, what Dr. Blencowe and the research team found is that the proteins identified by our splicing code can activate or deactivate stem cell pluripotency,” said Brendan J. Frey, from the University of Toronto Departments of Electrical Engineering and Medicine, who published with Benjamin Blencowe the paper that deciphered this splicing code (see Nature 2010 465: 53-59).  While a complete recipe for producing iPSCs may not be available yet, it is beginning to look more likely, according to Frey.

In this paper, Blencowe and his collaborators identified two proteins known as muscleblind-like RNA binding proteins, or MBNL1 and MBNL2.  These proteins are conserved and direct negative regulators of a large program of cassette exon alternative splicing events that are differentially regulated between embryonic stem cells and other cell types.

RNA splicing occurs in plant, animal, fungal, and protist cells (only very, very rarely in bacteria), and involves the removal of segments of primary RNA transcripts.  When RNA molecules are transcribed in eukaryotic cells, they are engaged by cellular machinery called the RNA spliceosome.  The RNA spliceosome removes segments known as “introns” and the excised introns are degraded and the remaining RNA segments, which are known as “exons, are ligated together to form a mature messenger RNA.

mRNA splicing

Some introns are removed from primary RNA transcripts by all cells, but others are removed in some cells but not others.  This phenomenon is known “alternative splicing” and it is responsible for the differential regulation of particular genes.


Alternative splicing is mediated by sequences called splicing enhancers and splicing silencers that are six to either nucleotides long and bind proteins that either induce or repress alternative splicing in those cells that express the proteins that bind these splicing enhancers or silencers.

Alternative RNA splicing mechanism

MBNL is one of these proteins that bind to RNA splicing silencers.  If the quantity of MBNL proteins in differentiated cells is decreased, then these cells switch to an embryonic stem cell-like alternative splicing pattern for approximately half of their genes.  Conversely, overexpression of MBNL proteins in ES cells promotes differentiated-cell-like alternative splicing patterns.  Among the MBNL-regulated events is an ES-cell-specific alternative splicing switch in a protein-coding gene called the forkhead family transcription factor FOXP1.  FOXP1 controls pluripotency, and consistent with a central and negative regulatory role for MBNL proteins in pluripotency, knockdown of MBNL significantly enhances the expression of key pluripotency genes and the formation of induced pluripotent stem cells during somatic cell reprogramming.

Thus MBNL proteins should be one of the main targets for the mass production of iPSCs.