Cover image for Embryos under the microscope : the diverging meanings of life
Embryos under the microscope : the diverging meanings of life
Maienschein, Jane.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2014.
Physical Description:
x, 336 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Recurring questions, seeing and believing -- Hypothetical and observed embryos with microscopes at work -- Experimental embryos in the laboratory -- Inherited, evolved, and computed embryos -- The visible human embryo -- The idea of engineered and constructed embryos -- Constructing embryos for society, stem cells in action -- Constraints and opportunities for construction -- Therefore...
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Audubon Library QM603 .M35 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Too tiny to see with the naked eye, the human embryo was just a hypothesis until the microscope made observation of embryonic development possible. This changed forever our view of the minuscule cluster of cells that looms large in questions about the meaning of life. Embryos under the Microscope examines how our scientific understanding of the embryo has evolved from the earliest speculations of natural philosophers to today's biological engineering, with its many prospects for life-enhancing therapies. Jane Maienschein shows that research on embryos has always revealed possibilities that appear promising to some but deeply frightening to others, and she makes a persuasive case that public understanding must be informed by up-to-date scientific findings.

Direct observation of embryos greatly expanded knowledge but also led to disagreements over what investigators were seeing. Biologists confirmed that embryos are living organisms undergoing rapid change and are not in any sense functioning persons. They do not feel pain or have any capacity to think until very late stages of fetal development. New information about DNA led to discoveries about embryonic regulation of genetic inheritance, as well as evolutionary relationships among species. Scientists have learned how to manipulate embryos in the lab, taking them apart, reconstructing them, and even synthesizing--practically from scratch--cells, body parts, and maybe someday entire embryos. Showing how we have learned what we now know about the biology of embryos, Maienschein changes our view of what it means to be alive.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

From abortion and contraception through stem cell research, human embryos find themselves at the center of numerous political debates, and Maienschein, professor of biology at Arizona State University, notes that members of the public, including legislators, often "do not have the right kind of information to make wise choices." Her goal here is to provide the sort of biological knowledge that will elevate the quality of dialogue and decision-making about these controversial issues. Balancing a rich historical perspective with modern insights, Maienschein demonstrates that some of the most deeply held beliefs-beliefs that run contrary to our scientific understanding-are consistent with those professed centuries ago. While awareness of biological realities should shape public policy, she is politically astute enough to recognize "that underlying faith and belief will trump any other evidence, including scientific." Maienschein explains the biological basis for the Roe v. Wade decision and weighs in on the debate over fetal pain, asserting that it is impossible for fetuses to feel pain as early as proponents claim since they don't have the necessary "neural wiring" until after week 24. Maienschein moves further afield by discussing exciting possibilities offered by "regenerative medicine," and though her book is occasionally repetitive, it illuminates and clarifies debates often obscured by emotion. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Maienschein (director, Ctr. for Biology and Society, Arizona State Univ.; 100 Years Exploring Life, 1888-1988: The Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole) examines research on human embryos, correcting misconceptions spread in popular media by citing scientific studies as well as her own experience as a biologist. The author recounts the evolution of scientists' understanding of human embryos and debunks myths by answering commonly asked questions about the organisms. She discusses a wide range of experiments involving embryos and comments on research related to engineered and constructed embryos. Maienschein also addresses stem cells as well as scientific efforts to dismantle, reconstruct, and synthesize embryos. Drawing from a vast body of her own scientific research and that of other scientists, the author makes the case that the general public must be educated about human embryos and kept apprised of current research. VERDICT Although some prior knowledge about this subject and biology in general is helpful, it is not necessary in order to read this book. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn about human embryos and how investigation on them affects society, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and researchers studying human biology.-Tina Chan, SUNY Oswego (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This remarkable book combines discussions of the history and evolution of the science of embryology with related social issues, legal problems, religious beliefs, and the intriguing outcomes of embryonic cell potentiality. Over the ages and even more recently, the distinction between living and nonliving and the question of what a person is have been debated by philosophers, scientists, religious groups, and legal examiners. Historically, the prevailing preformation theory and epigenesis fueled by a vital force served as the contending explanations for a new life. Only when seen through the power of microscope lenses was the fertilized egg and its subsequent development realized. Early microscopic studies on transplantation and differentiation were followed by the revelation of the role of nucleic acids. Currently, bioengineering is used to manipulate developmental events. Questions arise as to when these dividing cells can be defined as an organism and when the developing embryo becomes a person. The use of embryos for stem cell research, the propriety of cloning, surrogate parenthood, and the potency of these young cells also raise questions. Maienschein (Arizona State Univ.) skillfully records these discussions and scientific advancements and urges the general public to become better informed about the many embryonic-based societal issues. --Rita A. Hoots, Sacramento City College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
1 Recurring Questions, Seeing and Believingp. 1
2 Hypothetical and Observed Embryos with Microscopes at Workp. 28
3 Experimental Embryos in the Laboratoryp. 66
4 Inherited, Evolved, and Computed Embryosp. 105
5 The Visible Human Embryop. 140
6 The Idea of Engineered and Constructed Embryosp. 176
7 Constructing Embryos for Society, Stem Cells in Actionp. 216
8 Constraints and Opportunities for Constructionp. 253
Therefore...p. 274
Notesp. 289
Acknowledgmentsp. 313
Indexp. 317

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