Artificial Womb is Coming – Are We Ready? #science #biology

A problem on the verge of being solved:

Extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination

Concept from 1955 – this problem’s been studied for a long time

of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success.

Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. [my emphasis] nature.com

There have been several articles about this study – I’ve quoted the researchers’ abstract. Don’t you love science-y phrases? Extracorporeal systems – so specific. Take a look at the pictures on the link – both creepy and fascinating.

This version of an artificial womb isn’t ready for use on humans – yet. But if these researchers don’t make it, someone else will. Premature babies will live healthy lives and parents will be spared tremendous grief – for them it would be utopia.

But there’s no Yin without Yang. We have some big decisions coming up. If every embryo could be raised to a healthy child, is there ever a reason to discard unused embryos from fertility treatments? Should abortions become fetus transfers? If so, who should pay for the baby – not only for birthing it, but for raising the child? Our current foster care system has a lot of problems already – I don’t see it absorbing more children.

And yet – birth rates are dropping in industrialized nations. Some governments are offering tax incentives to women to have more babies. Maybe governments would want to raise all the unwanted babies. Don’t just think of Dickensian orphanages – remember the “lying down rooms of baby houses” in the old Soviet Union. It’s the beginning of a lot of science fiction dystopias.

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Humans Slaughtered Mammoths But Can They Save Us from Climate Change? #global warming #rewilding #elephant

Feral horse

Rewilding is “large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas.” In North America and Europe, projects are underway to protect and reintroduce large wildlife, including predators, and reverse habitat loss.

Pleistocene rewilding seeks to restore ecosystems from ten thousand years ago – for example, by introducing elephants, lions, and cheetahs to protected areas in the American Great Plains.

Rewilding aims to save animals and ecosystems, but a project now underway in Siberia is “a radical geoengineering scheme” with a human-centric goal: to slow climate change.

During the last Ice Age, vast areas of grasslands beyond the edges of glaciers locked up huge amounts of carbon in Siberia (not something universal in the Arctic.) As today’s permafrost melts, release of all that carbon dioxide threatens to create a positive feedback that would accelerate global warming and make climate change worse for you and me – and our progeny. But returning these areas to Pleistocene grassland could slow or prevent the change by keeping “permafrost frozen by giving it a top coat of Ice Age grassland.”

All we need are the animals that created that grassland ecosystem. Horses, bison, musk ox, and reindeer have already been moved into what was once a Soviet-era gulag of gold mining, but the project needs something bigger – mammoths.

Cloning may jump into your mind, but it’s not likely. DNA degrades even when frozen and we may never find a viable mammoth cell. But mammoths are closely related to elephants, and scientists from across the globe are working to resurrect the mammoth by turning on genes that will adapt elephants to the Arctic climate by giving them heavy coats, thick layers of fat, and smaller ears, among other changes.

That seems like the easy part. If embryos are eventually created, they can’t be placed in surrogate elephant mothers – Asian elephants are endangered. So artificial wombs are needed.

A womb isn’t just a bucket of fluid.

The mammalian mother–child bond, with its precisely timed hormone releases, is beyond the reach of current biotechnology. But scientists are getting closer with mice… [There are] hopes to deliver the first woolly mammoth to Pleistocene Park within a decade.

Even if the technical problems are solved, there’s still a cultural issue. Elephants – and, no doubt, mammoths – are highly social animals.

Older mammoths would have taught the calf how to find ancestral migration paths, how to avoid sinkholes, where to find water. When a herd member died, the youngest mammoth would have watched the others stand vigil, tenderly touching the body of the departed with their trunks before covering it with branches and leaves. No one knows how to re-create this rich mammoth culture, much less how to transmit it to that cosmically bewildered first mammoth.

It’s an amazing, overwhelming undertaking. But there are people out there working on it. Perhaps we’ll see reconstructed, de-extincted mammoths in our lifetime.

Thanks to theatlantic.com for their article, with some help from wikipedia.org.