Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Snuggling Blastocyst

Michelle Malkin believes Henry Waxman is waging war on abstinence education. In support of her belief, she points us to John Bambenek's quick takedown of the report. The takedown raises four objections, two of them being:

  • Science doesn't have a firm definition of when life begins.

  • Objecting to the word "snuggling" [used to describe implantation] is nit-picky crap [that] waste[s] tax payer money.

    Of course, Ms. Malkin is a writer, so a basic knowledge of biology is apparently not a necessity for her. However, there's no need for you to be in the dark. I'll address the "when life begins" topic in a separate post, so let's focus on implantation today.

    Implantation is the burrowing of the blastocyst into the uterine lining (the endometrium). What is a blastocyst? It's a bunch of cells with some fluid between them. Initially, you have a mature egg + sperm = a zygote. The zygote cleaves, and the resulting cells are called blastomeres. As the blastomeres continue to divide, they produce a solid, mulberry-like ball of cells. A 16-cell ball is called a morula.

    The morula enters the uterine cavity approximately 3 days after fertilization, and floats around in the cavity for a few more days. During this time, fluid gradually accumulates between the morula's cells, and, once a fluid-filled cavity is formed, the morula becomes a blastocyst. There are about 107 to 256 cells in a blastocyst. The blastocyst begins to implant about 6 days after fertilization.

    Blastocysts do not snuggle; they burrow into the uterus. This is not nit-picking ... I say burrowing, you say snuggling. Describing implantation as snuggling is incorrect.

    Implantation is an extremely aggressive process, involving the destruction of maternal tissue. First, the blastocyst sticks to the uterine wall, and gradually erodes the uterine lining. It does that by secreting substances that destroy the matrix keeping the uterine cells together. Then it invades those empty spaces, in between the uterine cells.

    The processes used by the blastocyst to implant are indistinguishable from those used by metastasizing (spreading) cancer cells.

    [Just to be clear. I'm not a writer, so what I wrote above is not a fancy description of implantation, or a value judgment. It's a more or less direct* quote from the scientists who actually observed the process.]

    Moreover, once inside, the blastocyst invades the mother's blood vessels, and destroys the walls of these vessels. [This process is essential for establishing an uteroplacental blood flow.]



    In fact, because the tissue involved in implantation is so aggressive, if something goes wrong with the mechanism that normally limits its invasive growth, the blastocyst can "snuggle" [WARNING, graphic picture] a hole right through the uterus (or, for that matter, through any organ its cells happen to seed.]

    Returning to the topic of abstinence education, granted, there's no expectation of an in-depth discussion of reproductive biology in a general sex-ed class. However, a minimum of scientific accuracy should be expected. Hence, anyone with a basic knowledge of biology will take issue with describing implantation as a "snuggling" of the blastocyst, since it's a false description; it contradicts reality.

    Let me end with an interesting aside. The uterine tissue is not essential for implantation. The blastocyst can implant in the fallopian tube, ovary, spleen, and even the testicle (this was done in experimental studies, of course). So, gentlemen, pay attention, for soon it might be possible for you to carry a pregnancy to term in your scrotum. [OK, you men can stop hyperventilating now. I'm exaggerating for effect.]

    * The actual quote is:

    These functions of cytotrophoblasts [a layer of cells in blastocysts] invading the endometrium [the lining of the uterus] are indistinguishable from those of metastasizing malignant [cancer] cells.


    Williams Obstetrics, 21 ed., p 89

  • 20 Comments:

    At 7:59 PM, Blogger Anne said...

    Geez, why didn't they use "cuddling" while they were at it. Such an obvious attempt at emotional manipulation. They're lost without emotional blackmail, though.

     
    At 8:40 PM, Blogger CE Petro said...

    Ema, thanks for the reality check. I really am quite disturbed at the manipulation of language used to garner support by many on the right.

     
    At 10:01 PM, Blogger John C. A. Bambenek said...

    Thanks for the link-back and discussion. You can criticize the word "snuggling" but it's still silly semantics and certainly not making a religious argument? Is snuggling a religious liturgy? Do athiests only express affection by kicked people in the face?

    If that's the only word in a course that he takes exception to, then really, that's not a big black eye on the course. It hardly qualifies for some large scale right wing conspiracy to keep kids stupid. It's a style objection, nothing more. And we don't pay Congressman to report on style choices.

     
    At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    From the Washington Post:

    "Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take "virginity pledges" may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex."

    When there are two competing dogmas, let the one supported by fact rather than ideology win. please.

     
    At 2:24 PM, Blogger Doctor Disgruntled said...

    Your analysis is correct, inasmuch as the word "snuggling" has emotional connotations that are probably inappropriate here, especially IF this is being done with the specific purpose of manipulating laypeople.

    I do think you have to concede that science doesn't know when life begins, though, and therefore whether you call implantation "snuggling," "implantation," or (insert neologism here) may not be relevant- by which I mean the argument about whether it is a life probably takes precedence over which words are used to describe the biological step involved.

    Interesting post, though.

     
    At 3:08 PM, Blogger ema said...

    My aim was to clarify what actually happens during implantation, not to discuss "when life begins". So, in this context, what you call implantation is very relevant. [Remember, this was info given to HS students.] Obviously, in a sex ed class you don't go into details about cytotrophoblast, but you need to use the correct terminology. So, burrowing, or tunneling would be a more accurate term.

    To me "snuggling" implies something akin to pinocytosis, and I wanted to make sure lay readers understand that's incorrect.

     
    At 4:40 PM, Blogger Joan said...

    "Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take "virginity pledges" may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex."Isn't this quote self-contradictory? Isn't it a benefit, in and of itself, if kids are waiting longer to initiate sexual activity? I'd say that 18 or 19 year olds are better able to handle the responsibilities of sexual activity than are 13, 14, or 15 year olds. That fact that the kids are eventually having premarital sex doesn't tell us nearly enough to be able to accurately asses the effectiveness of these programs.

    The Columbia U researchers and the reporters here are making the assumption that pre-marital sex at any age is equally bad. Common sense would dictate otherwise.

     
    At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't know about when life begins, but I was under the impression that life never stopped. I had always thought that eggs and sperm were living cells - perhaps a bit different than most cells, but definately alive. When they hook up, they don't die - they just shake up their collective DNA a bit. Or am I totally off base here?

     
    At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The blogger is a typical pompous, snide liberal. The use of the word "snuggling" is emotional--so what? Having emotional reactions to living, human beings is a hallmark of humanity (and why doctors, in my opinion, who are trained out of these reactions are a mere subspecies).

    The blogger obviously does not believe we should have emotional attachments to babies at this stage in their lives. Some people disagree. Biology has nothing to do with it.

     
    At 4:36 AM, Blogger ema said...

    The blogger is a typical pompous, snide liberal. The use of the word "snuggling" is emotional--so what?Ad hominem aside, what you [or, for that matter, I] assume other people to be is completely irrelevant when it comes to the mechanism of action of an implanting blastocyst. The use of the word "snuggling" is not emotional. It is factually incorrect.

    Having emotional reactions to living, human beings is a hallmark of humanity (and why doctors, in my opinion, who are trained out of these reactions are a mere subspecies).

    Off topic. We are discussing the factual accuracy of the information taught to students in a sex ed class, not what the hallmarks of humanity are. However, since you brought up the topic of humanity hallmarks, in my opinion, having the emotional reaction of calling some of your fellow humans a mere subspecies is a hallmark of pseudo humanity.

    The blogger obviously does not believe we should have emotional attachments to babies at this stage in their lives. Some people disagree.

    Other than via mystical revelation perhaps, factually describing the process of implantation doesn't make it obvious what my belief system is. In case I didn't make it clear in the post: we are talking about implantation and blastocysts, not babies. Regardless of what people agree, or disagree about, a blastocyst is a pre-embryo stage. It hasn't even acquired individuation yet (briefly, the capacity to develop into a distinct human being).

    Biology has nothing to do with it.Actually, biology has everything to do with it. No amount of faith, or agreement can make, for example, a mouse embryo be a human baby. Similarly, just calling a blastocyst a baby doesn't make it one; rather a certain biological sequence of events does.

     
    At 4:07 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

    "The blogger" is one of those stylistic choices meant to dehumanize you. The irony, the irony.

    Anyway, on the implantation thing--cool.

     
    At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Well, Ema seemed to get a bit emotional. Perhaps then we can understand the irrationality of her comments. Here's the response, Ema.

    The ad hominem was completely appropriate. The word "snuggling" can be reasonably applied to the implanting process; nothing in your helpful biology lesson disproves that. After all, the blogger describes the term as "aggressive" Both terms are value judgments--and it is the hallmark of pompous, snide liberals to think that their judgments are facts and everyone else's are superstition. Implanting is a physical process; what adjectives one puts on it is a matter of taste, not fact.


    Thus, one's emotional reaction is central to the description of implanting. Some people see it as snuggling--others (like the blogger) see implanting as aggressive destroying of cell layers. There's no science here; only value judgments.

    When the bloggers states "we are talking about implantation and blastocysts, not babies. . . . one; rather a certain biological sequence of events" that's nonesense. ALL life is a continuum. And, sadly, nature does not provide clear categories. Only the dictates of conscience does. What is infuriating is that doctors (and so many others of the cultural and professional elite) cannot separate the two.

    BTW, the mouse/human embryo is a superb example of the blogger's ignorance. No one has a definition of what a "species" is. Biologists continue to debate it. Are mules donkeys--are toy poodles and great danes members of the same species because they can't reproduce under normal circumstances, etc. Thus, nature does not provide the boundaries. WE do.

     
    At 10:06 PM, Blogger ema said...

    Well, Ema seemed to get a bit emotional. Perhaps then we can understand the irrationality of her comments. Here's the response, Ema.

    Look, I understand that emotions represent an important frame of reference for you, but focus on just the facts for a moment.

    The ad hominem was completely appropriate.Appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason is not appropriate when discussing a biological process.

    The word "snuggling" can be reasonably applied to the implanting process; nothing in your helpful biology lesson disproves that.The physical act of snuggling = to lie or press close together; to nestle; to draw close or hold closely; to hug. As I mention in another comment, if something like pinocytosis was involved in implantation, you could describe the process as "snuggling": the blastocyst would be enveloped (nestled, hugged, etc.) by the uterine tissue. Since it isn't, you cannot reasonably apply the term snuggling to the implantation process.

    After all, the blogger describes the term as "aggressive" Both terms are value judgments...Describing implantation as aggressive is not a value judgment. It is a factual description. The tissue involved in implantation is fast growing; tending to spread quickly and invade (the definition of aggressive).

    [I]t is the hallmark of pompous, snide liberals to think that their judgments are facts and everyone else's are superstition.The description of implantation and the terms I used do not represent my judgment. They are information based on real occurrences, aka facts. Scientist actually observed the real occurrence of implantation; they described the process; I used their description and terminology.

    A judgement is the formation of an opinion after consideration and deliberation. I haven't considered/deliberated, nor formed an opinion on implantation. Of course, just because I don't have an opinion on something, that mustn't stop you from pompously and snidely making one up and attributing it to me, and from explaining its hallmarks to everybody. After all, reality is relative ;-).

    Implanting is a physical process; what adjectives one puts on it is a matter of taste, not fact.

    Because implantation is a physical process, the adjectives one uses to describe this actual process are a matter of fact (they must reflect reality), not a matter of taste. Unless, of course, you maintain that reality doesn't matter, only what you fell about it does. (But that can't possibly be your position, a position usually associated, with them touchy-feely liberals.)

    Thus, one's emotional reaction is central to the description of implanting.

    Implantation exists independent of our emotions. It is the same process whether you feel strongly about it, love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it. Thus, one's emotion's are irrelevant to the description of implantation.

    Some people see it as snuggling--others (like the blogger) see implanting as aggressive destroying of cell layers. There's no science here; only value judgments.When one describes implantation, it is irrelevant how one sees it. You are using words/terms to describe an actual process, not to describe what your opinion of that process is.

    When the bloggers states "we are talking about implantation and blastocysts, not babies. . . . one; rather a certain biological sequence of events" that's nonesense. ALL life is a continuum.

    It is not clear what you believe to be nonsense? My post was, in fact, about implantation and blastocysts. If by "continuum", in the context of blastocyst and baby, you mean "no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division", you are incorrect. The parts of a blastocyst are quite distinguishable from those of a baby. Unless a certain biological sequence of events occurs (e.g., the formation of a disc, etc.) the blastocyst will not even become an embryo, let alone a neonate.

    And, sadly, nature does not provide clear categories. Only the dictates of conscience does.

    See my end comment.

    BTW, the mouse/human embryo is a superb example of the blogger's ignorance. No one has a definition of what a "species" is. Biologists continue to debate it. Are mules donkeys--are toy poodles and great danes members of the same species because they can't reproduce under normal circumstances, etc. Thus, nature does not provide the boundaries. WE do.

    What I said was "No amount of faith, or agreement can make, for example, a mouse embryo be a human baby." We'll get back to that in a moment. But first, this.

    Actually, the biology people, the logic people, and the Roman Catholic Church people all have a definition of what a "species" is. Thus, your assertion that no one has a definition of what a "species" is is uneducated, unaware, or uninformed [see ignorance]. You probably already know what a mule is, so I'm not exactly sure what your point is. Are you saying that science's ability to create interspecies hybrids proves that there are no species?

    Back to the human/mouse embryo. If you can take a mouse embryo, and actually transform it into a human via belief or agreement alone, then you have undoubtedly proven me an ignorant person. But that is nothing. If you think you, as opposed to nature, can provide species boundaries, may I respectfully suggest you are wasting your time and talents on this blog. Most of the world's universities, religious and industry leaders, and the Noble prize committee need to hear from you.

    (I'm pretty sure you're assertions about nature not providing clear categories, and species are in jest, for the sake of argument. However, if I've misinterpreted and you're serious please let me know and I'll look for some educational links and post them.)

     
    At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Well, is implanting "snuggling" or "aggressive" cell wall destruction? The blogger says it's "aggressive"; some abstinence educators say it's "snuggling"

    One hardly has to be a radical nominalist to recognize that both usages are metaphoric. And, that's the point. The blogger--who (I suspect for abortion politics reasons) doesn't want to associate warm, gushy feelings with the process--and sees it as aggressive. Others don't. There's simply no "right" answer. After all, "snuggling" can be seen as aggressive as it can involve (if vigorous enough) the ripping, scrapping dead skin cells off bodies.


    Yes, life is a continuue. The blastocyst carries the genetic material of two people; it's a baby under some definitions. That is can't grow by itself is hardly a meaningful distinction. Neither can newborn babies.

    What college did the blogger attend???? Anyone who thinks that species have clear cut boundaries NEVER took a course in evolutionary biology. A two minute google seach revealed this fairly generic article about the "species problem" in biology. Perhaps the blogger will care to be educated.

    http://www.botany.wisc.edu/courses/botany_940/papers/Hey.pdf


    But, I suspect not . . . .

     
    At 5:49 PM, Blogger ema said...

    Well, is implanting "snuggling" or "aggressive" cell wall destruction? The blogger says it's "aggressive"; some abstinence educators say it's "snuggling"

    It doesn't matter who says what about implantation. It only matters what actually happens during implantation: a fast, invasive [aggressive] growth.

    One hardly has to be a radical nominalist to recognize that both usages are metaphoric. And, that's the point. The blogger--who (I suspect for abortion politics reasons) doesn't want to associate warm, gushy feelings with the process--and sees it as aggressive. Others don't. There's simply no "right" answer. After all, "snuggling" can be seen as aggressive as it can involve (if vigorous enough) the ripping, scrapping dead skin cells off bodies.

    One has to be divorced from reality to express an actual process (implantation) in terms normally denoting another. The point is that one should not use inaccurate [as in, non-descriptive] terms to describe implantation. What you suspect, or how I/others see implantation is irrelevant. The actual mechanism of implantation is the same, regardless--indistinguishable from cancer cell spread. The right answer is the one using accurate (conforming exactly to fact) terms. Implantation does not involve already dead cells. So an example using ripping/scrapping of dead cells is invalid. Moreover, no amount of snuggling (used in the "hugging" sense, I take it) can kill live cells and replace them with invading cells. Even by the most extreme of definitions, snuggling does not allow for breach of interface.

    Yes, life is a continuue. The blastocyst carries the genetic material of two people; it's a baby under some definitions. That is can't grow by itself is hardly a meaningful distinction. Neither can newborn babies.To refresh your memory: your assertion was that a blastocyst and a baby have "no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division". Since the discussion didn't involve uterine tissue (growth medium, if you will), the fact that it "can't grow by itself" was not under discussion.

    What college did the blogger attend???? Anyone who thinks that species have clear cut boundaries NEVER took a course in evolutionary biology. A two minute google seach revealed this fairly generic article about the "species problem" in biology. Perhaps the blogger will care to be educated.Ah, the certitude afforded by a two minute Google search!!!! [link didn't work, so can't comment on it] One person who thinks species are defined not only took a course in evolutionary biology, but actually teaches it. Another wrote his PhD thesis on it. It's uneducated to make sweeping, false assertions.

     
    At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    At least we're making progress. The blogger has now made clear that "aggressive" means "fast, invasive"-- but snuggling "does not allow for breach of interface [of the cell wall]."

    Ah, how nice to be a Semiotics Empress--or is it Humpty-Dumpty, who in Lewis's telling said every word means precisely what I mean it to mean.

    In no dictionary I know of is there a requirement that "snuggling" requires breaking cell walls--and that "aggressive" must require such things. This is fantasy. Again, implanting is a physical process that people can view in different ways. As it requires a baby finding a place with its mother, snuggling seems appropriate.

    The blogger claims that I said "a blastocyst and a baby have "no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division"". I never said that--you did. Again, my point holds. If you define baby as an entity with the genetic material of two people, a blastocyst's a baby.

    Re: species. Well, since you couldn't be bothered to find the link, I'll quote from the cited artice

    Prominent in species debates are questions regarding therole played by human investigators in the creation ofspecies taxa, particularly with regard to taxonomic rankdesignations. Darwin argued that decisions to apply thetaxonomic rank of species were sometimes arbitrary, andthat species are not different essentially from varieties.


    Ah, so Darwin's ill-educated?

    Again, my first point holds. You're a snide, liberal who confuses her opinions for reality.

     
    At 10:38 PM, Blogger ema said...

    At least we're making progress. The blogger has now made clear that "aggressive" means "fast, invasive"-- but snuggling "does not allow for breach of interface [of the cell wall]."I would not presume to devise the meaning of words [but by all means, you feel free to do just that]. The dictionary defines the word aggressive as: Fast growing; tending to spread quickly and invade. What the scientist observed directly was tissue that was fast growing, tending to spread quickly and invade. Thus, implantation is an aggressive process.

    Ah, how nice to be a Semiotics Empress--or is it Humpty-Dumpty, who in Lewis's telling said every word means precisely what I mean it to mean.

    I appreciate you giving me credit for using accurate terms, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I must let you know that I am not the originator of this concept. No need to be so hard on yourself for using words that mean precisely what you mean they mean (besides, you're in good company with Humpty-Dumpty).

    In no dictionary I know of is there a requirement that "snuggling" requires breaking cell walls--and that "aggressive" must require such things. This is fantasy. Again, implanting is a physical process that people can view in different ways. As it requires a baby finding a place with its mother, snuggling seems appropriate.We were not discussing dictionary requirements, but rather requirements for factual descriptions of implantation, and the validity of your example that, to refresh your memory: After all, "snuggling" can be seen as aggressive as it can involve (if vigorous enough) the ripping, scrapping dead skin cells off bodies." My comment was about the validity of your example. In any case, you've made my point. Since there's no requirement for snuggling to denote breaking tissues, and since that is what actually happens in implantation, snuggling can not be used to describe the process of implantation. There is only one way you can view implantation: the way it actually happens. What seems appropriate is irrelevant; the only relevant thing is what actually happens.

    The blogger claims that I said "a blastocyst and a baby have "no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division"". I never said that--you did. Again, my point holds. If you define baby as an entity with the genetic material of two people, a blastocyst's a baby.

    In response to my mentioning that the post was about blastocysts, not babies, you said:

    When the bloggers states "we are talking about implantation and blastocysts, not babies. . . . one; rather a certain biological sequence of events" that's nonesense. ALL life is a continuum."A continuum, by definition has "no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division." A blastocyst and a baby have distinguishable parts. Your point does not hold; tumors, and women ["an entity with the genetic material of two people"] are not babies, and neither is a blastocyst.

    Re: species. Well, since you couldn't be bothered to find the link, I'll quote from the cited articeAgain, I have to ask you to focus on reality, for a moment. What I said was "link didn't work, so can't comment on it". From the quote you used, it's still not clear what your point is. Assuming it is something along the lines of "species are not defined because Darwin didn't define them", you're in luck. Here's the correction to that mistake.

    Ah, so Darwin's ill-educated?Not taking the time to understand Darwin, and mistakenly using Darwin's work is ill-educated.

    Again, my first point holds. You're a snide, liberal who confuses her opinions for reality.

    What you believe about your first point, or about me is irrelevant to the process of implantation.

     
    At 11:02 PM, Blogger John Wilkins said...

    ema has asked me via email to make a comment on whether there is, or is not, a definition of species in biology, or if species are just human constructs. This is because I did my PhD on the subject.

    There are a range of approaches amongst biologists. There are those (misleadingly) called "species nominalists" - who treat species as conventional names that are useful mainly for communication but which have no reality in themselves. Darwin is sometimes painted as a species nominalist, but he was not really (see the discussion in Stamos 2003).

    Of those who are called "species realists" (of which I am one), there are a host of species concepts in play. 25 to be exact. Each concept has some "trigger criterion" for distinguishing between one species and the next, but they differ in how they mark out reality. For example, I have been told that phylogenetic species concepts will find around 4 or so times the number of species that a biological (reproductive isolation) concept will, and critics of the latter often note that in practice it is just a morphological concept, based on form and similarity, anyway.

    All that said, specialists tend not to disagree about the extent of species, given the difference between phylogenetic and biological concepts, except that there are, and always have been clear back to Aristotle, problem cases. One student of Agassiz's would smash the transitional forms of his shellfish to avoid trying to fit them into one species or another.

    I am completely unsure how this relates to the subject at hand (and have no desire to learn), except to say two things. One, that life does form clumps and those clumps, though occasionally they may be hard to mark out clearly or unambiguously, are real facts about living beings. Two, that there is a distinction to be made between what we can say about living things, and what is true. Life is sometimes vague or smeary. Other times the words are. The one does not imply the other.

    Stamos, David N. 2003. The species problem: biological species, ontology, and the metaphysics of biology. Lanham: Lexington Books.

     
    At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    i em gay

     
    At 4:52 PM, Blogger Follower of The Way said...

    You should have titled this blog "The Invasion of the Blastocysts!"

    Wow. You decry the use of the word snuggling yet then use the word "invade" to replace it? Seriously?

    Does this not make you a wee by hypocritical?

    What's so ironic is that the pro-lifers fought for you to be able to be born so that you could write this. Isn't that amazing to consider. If your mother had aborted you then you would have never been able to write and defend the fact that your mother should have been able to kill you if she wanted to. After all...you were only once an invading blastocyst!

    But I'm very grateful that you're alive because, after all, Jane Roe became Norma Leah McCorvey and now FIGHTS for babies so there is hope for all of us!

    .

     

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