Simon Carr:

The Sketch: What is a stem cell? Most MPs don't have a clue

Share
Related Topics

Pens faltered, brows furrowed, note-taking stopped. One by one you could see MPs and gallery journalists realising that the most fundamental fact about the debate is they didn't actually know what a stem cell is. That's quite a disadvantage when it comes to the big ethical question of human/animal hybrids for research purposes.

For instance is the statement "mitochondrial DNA is autonomous" a) true, b) false, c) a misreading of illegibly scrawled notes?

Mark Simmonds told us scientists were making sperm from pluripotent cells. I asked the departmental official how it was spelt. He didn't know. Maybe it's pleuripotent. As to what it means – seven people on the floor of the House would have known.

"I know science," Dr Ian Gibson told us, but spoilt his effect by adding, "I know science backwards!" Because that's how I know science too.

So we all have to ease back on the mockery, I fear. "We should not be spliced together with the animal kingdom," Edward Leigh told us, bravely, I suppose. There was some spluttering from Labour benches, but I doubt they'd get into double figures on a Mastermind genetics quiz. Ian Gibson intervened a little grandly, perhaps, to ask what the difference was in base sequences between animal and human DNA. Mr Leigh said: "The hon gentleman is trying to blind us with science." There was more aggressive spluttering. Leigh then revealed that he knew he was genetically 30 per cent a daffodil. He'd been told so that very morning.

Chris Bryant (30 per cent fruit fly) said that many of these church-based anti-research arguments sounded like the campaign against vaccination all those years ago. This ad hominem point marked the poor fellow's final descent from sweet reason into politics.

Brian Iddon criticised Leigh's use of words like "entity" and "being" to describe "a blastocyst consisting of 150 cells". Leigh replied: "An embryo is not a thing." It was an assertion of faith with no logical basis. Of course, I don't mean to imply he was wrong.

It's the provision for 50-50 hybrids that make some of us drop our morning toast. Evan Harris asked for the ethical difference between a 50 per cent hybrid and a 1 per cent hybrid. He didn't get an answer – but there must be one, and a little reflection would produce it. But there wasn't time before the vote at 6.30pm.

Gordon – I'm guessing – doesn't know any more science than the rest of us. So how can he – or we – know what the moral course of action is?

simoncarr@sketch.sc

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices