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Thursday, February 14th, 2013
Let’s face it, everybody who wants a baby wants a Super Baby. Although so many parents-to-be say they’re simply hoping for healthy children, I know deep down that many would prefer to go a step further and have a disease resistant babies. Calm babies. Happy babies. Genius babies. Gorgeous babies. Gifted and talented babies. Essentially, people want tiny little superheroes to call their own.
And, as I learned at last night’s Intelligence Squared debate on genetically engineered babies, the super baby of the future may not be that far away. Private companies around the world, including here in the U.S., have already been altering the genetic makeup of human eggs, sperm, and zygotes. Most of this work has been done in the interest of allowing women who could by no other means give birth to healthy biological children to do so—but clearly, genetically engineering babies could lead to many other “tweaks” that go beyond health and into looks, abilities, personalities, and more. The super baby of the future could truly mirror a super baby we’re already very familiar with—Superman, whose father, according to his back-story, was in fact, a scientist.
I can already imagine saying, “Oh, what? Your baby is already rolling over? Yeah, well, my little one is flying. And curing cancer. And generally saving the world. Oh, and her poo doesn’t smell. At all. No big.”
While it’s true that the promise of super babies is pretty exciting, the genetic modification of human reproductive cells does raise a ton of questions. If a woman can’t have a healthy child with her own DNA without having that DNA altered, at what point does it cease to be her DNA, and start being something . . . else? What risks are involved—is it safe? Would genetically altered babies lead to a world where the super baby reigns over the normal baby? How expensive would these genetic modifications be, and who would get left behind the pay wall?
I’ve seen the sci-fi genetics thriller Gattica more than a few times (and not just because I’m nerdy, I mean, come on—late ‘90s Ethan Hawke, people), so I’ll admit I went into last night’s debate thinking I knew a lot about the Brave New World of the super baby—but I had no idea just how fragile the human genome actually is, and how little we know about genetically engineered children.
According to panelist Sheldon Krimsky, Tufts University professor and Chair of the Center for Responsible Genetics, those who support the creation of super babies “think of the human genome as a Lego set, where pieces of DNA can be plugged in or out without interfering with the other parts of the system. Actually, the human genome is more like an ecosystem where all the parts interrelate and are in mutual balance.”
In other words? If we start altering a gene here or there, even with the best of intentions, we could majorly mess up a lot of other important things in a baby’s DNA—giving babies unpredictable, potentially deadly, and possibly never-seen-before disadvantages—much like Superman’s debilitating weakness toward Kryptonite. Youch. But then, when you think about it, good old-fashioned reproduction can yield babies with unpredictable and potentially debilitating disadvantages, too. Scientific intervention or not, you never know what you’re going to get when it comes to babies.
All that said, Krimsky isn’t against the super baby, either. He went on to say that instead of looking to the risky world of genetic engineering, we should turn to more safe and dependable ways to impact a baby’s outcomes, touting things like nutrition, vitamins, yoga, and other social and environmental factors during pregnancy. And the thing is, there really is solid data showing that many of those factors can improve baby’s intelligence, immunity, and even temperament. In short, although all the prenatal yoga in the world can’t give an infertile couple the ability to give birth the way genetic modifications can, it’s still possible for the average fertile couple to have a super baby without using a scientific scalpel—just a different kind of super baby. Think more Batman (self-made) than Superman (science made).
Personally, I’ve always been way more into Batman—I love the idea that even normal humans can become superheroes—but the debate over who’s better: Superman or Batman rages on, much as I expect the debate over genetically engineered babies to continue for a very long time. Both superheroes (and both kinds of babies) have their advantages—but no matter how you shake it, they’re both super, and both aim to make the world a better place.
I hope both sides of the genetically engineered babies debate keep our superhero friends in mind as they forge ahead, funding research, creating new technologies, and writing policies. Whatever is decided and whichever direction we go in, the first goal must be to keep our children safe and our communities healthy. Superheroes, like Batman and Superman, can afford to make life-or-death decisions like these on a dime, but since we’re simply mere mortals (for now), I hope everyone involved gives this debate the deep thought and analysis it deserves. Our future actually depends on it.
What do you think? Do you want a super baby? Are you more into Batman babies or Superman babies? Which side are you on in the debate over genetically engineered children? Comment below–this one is ready for a big discussion!
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Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
U.S. Students Still Lag Globally in Math and Science, Tests Show
Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday. (via New York Times)
Obesity in Young Is Seen as Falling in Several Cities
After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines. The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students. (via New York Times)
Vermont Tops Lists of Healthiest States
The annual America’s Health Rankings list is out, pitting U.S. states against each other in a no-holds-barred contest of health. For the fourth year in a row, Vermont takes the top spot as healthiest state. How did your state fare? (via ABC Health)
Overeating in Children may be Linked to Drug Use
Do bad nutrition habits like overeating or binge eating lead to smoking pot? Some health experts think they might, according to a study published Monday. (via CNN Health)
D Is for Divorce: Sesame Street Tackles Another Touchy Topic
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In early 1992, a census report predicted that 40% of children would soon live in divorced homes. As one of the most famous children’s-television programs in the world, Sesame Street was determined to take on a topic most kids shows wouldn’t touch. (via Time)
America's Health Rankings, cities, divorce, drug use, health, healthiest states, math, Noelia de la Cruz, obesity, Parents Daily News Roundup, Science, sesame street, students, Vermont | Categories:
Friday, January 13th, 2012
Poor Air Quality in Schools Sickens Kids
Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates schools that are making children sick.
Bald and Beautiful… Barbie? Mattel Responds to Lobbying Campaign
A movement is afoot on Facebook to create a “Bald Barbie” as a role model for young girls going through chemotherapy or suffering from hair loss conditions such as alopecia.
Natalee Holloway Declared Legally Dead
An Alabama judge signed an order Thursday declaring Natalee Holloway legally dead, attorneys for her family said.
U.S. Attorney Activates ‘School Corruption Hotline’
The United States Attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania has activated a hotline where citizens can report “suspected possible corruption in public education.”
Can Elmo Inspire Your Kid to Become a Scientist?
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Sesame Street is debuting a new curriculum this season, and it’s designed to help tots build essential skills in science and math.
Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
Is your child a budding scientist? Kids in 3rd to 6th grades have the opportunity to enter the Kids’ Science Challenge, an annual nationwide competition created by Jim Metzner (award-winning radio produce of Pulse of the Planet) and funded by The National Science Foundation.
Kids choose one of three science topics and then propose an original idea or experiment that relates to it. This year, the three topics are Zero Waste, Animal Smarts, and Meals on Mars.
Zero Waste challenges kids to invent a package using materials that will also be recycled and reused and never ends up in a landfill. Animal Smarts asks kids to design a toy, game, or experiment that will enhance a pet or zoo animal’s life as well as demonstrate its intelligence. Meals on Mars motivates kids to produce new ways of preserving, cooking, deliver, or produce sustainable food for space travel and for living on the planet Mars.
Three grand prize winners, one or each topic, are then selected and given trips to unique places (e.g. Green Mountain Coffee in Waterbury, Vermont; Oregon Zoo in Portland; and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas). Various other prizes will also be awarded, and the first 1,000 kids to enter the contest will also receive a free science kit.
Visit www.kidsciencechallenge.com to download an entry form and for more details. Contest deadline is February 29, 2012.
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Friday, November 4th, 2011
Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)
Roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree.
Viewing Autism as Difference, Not Just Disability
A provocative new article suggests society has been biased in its view of autism and should accept the condition as one in which an individual presents unique capabilities.
Research: Video Games Help with Creativity in Boys and Girls
That finding, thought to be the first demonstration of a relationship between technology use and creativity, comes from a new study of nearly 500 12-year-olds in Michigan, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project.
Board Approves Idaho Online Class Requirement
Education officials on Thursday gave final approval to a plan that makes Idaho the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate, despite heavy criticism of the plan at public hearings this summer.
The Sperm Bike: Cycling to Drum Up Sperm Donations
It’s not every day that you see a really large sperm on a really large bike. But starting next week, it’s going to become commonplace — at least in Seattle.
New Laws on Concussions Protect Student Athletes
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A new Virginia law requires all schools to have concussion-management policies.
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
As your kid navigates new classes, think about choosing one outstanding elementary school teacher to attend the 2012 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy, a one week-long, all-expense paid summer program for professional development in math and science. The academy was founded by PGA golfer Phil Mickelson, his wife Amy, and the oil and gas company ExxonMobil. The program was developed by the National Science Teachers Association and Math Solutions.
Every summer, about 100-200 elementary school teachers from around the nation are picked to “go back to school” and learn new, exciting ways to teach kids math and science. The five-day curriculum was put together by Math Solutions Professional Development and the National Science Teachers Association, and it includes activities, demonstrations, and experiments to help educators motivate their students to love math and science. The program is open to third to fifth grade teachers. Watch YouTube videos of teachers talking about participating in past programs.
Parents and students can go to SendMyTeacher.com to nominate a teacher for the 2012 program or teachers can also nominate themselves. The deadline is October 31, 2011.
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Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
You might not associate temperatures in the 40s with gardening, but mid-March is actually the perfect time to plant peas, according to gardening expert Rebecca P. Cohen, author of the new book, Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids. She recommends planting them in containers outside or, if it feels too nippy to be digging in your garden, on a windowsill. It’s an easy project for little ones to help out with—and peas are one of the most exciting vegetables to grow (add a stake to each container, and your kids will enjoy watching the peas vine up the sticks over the coming weeks). If you don’t want to deal with soil, you can even use wet newspaper with the seed pressed up against the glass, Cohen notes. Within seven days, your seed will sprout!
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Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
Few Students Show Proficiency in Science, Tests Show
On the most recent nationwide science test, about a third of fourth graders and a fifth of high school seniors scored at or above the proficiency level, according to results released Tuesday. (New York Times)
Smoking, obesity trim life expectancy
Smoking, a declining habit, and obesity, a burgeoning problem, have cut three to four years off the increasing life expectancy of Americans, an international longevity comparison concludes. (USA Today)
Study links divorce and kids’ suicidal thoughts
Watch Video (MSNBC)
Will schools start grading your parenting?
You get a performance review of your skills and attitude at work. Now, what if your kid’s school sent home a report card grading your skills as a parent?
That’s the proposal a Florida State representative, Kelli Stargel, is hoping to convince her fellow lawmakers to adopt. According to The Ledger, the Parent Involvement and Accountability in Public Schools bill would see parents of kids from pre-K to Grade 3 assigned a “satisfactory, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory…” (The Globe and Mail.com)
F.D.A and Dairy Industry Spar Over Testing of Milk
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Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue. (New York Times)