The physiological substrate of the mind in early human life

Jérôme Lejeune


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The physiological substrate of the mind in early human life

As Socrates once said to young Theaetetus, "Thought is a discourse that the soul holds with herself on the objects she is examining" - a marvelous definition, never surpassed. Yet it keeps the most wonderful aspect of human thought in the shadows: the mind's relationship with reality.

Two of the most popular modern theories of the mind are revealing. One says that human intelligence is just the fruit of chance, the result of the complex mechanisms of evolution. But if human intelligence were the fruit of pure chance, how could something so accidental be able to decipher, even partially, the laws of the universe? This faculty of deciphering the laws of the universe has given us an enormous yield -we are unleashing the fantastic power of the atom, we have put our feet on the moon. But to give us those results, human intelligence had to accumulate fragmentary knowledge from generation to generation, across millennia. If our intelligence were the result of chance, how could chance have foreseen these extraordinary uses of the brain so that evolution could build the organ which would make them possible?

The other opinion is that of Engels, that human intelligence is purely a consequence of the laws of chemistry and physics: someday, in some corner of the universe, spirit had to manifest itself because matter and energy are, so to speak, pregnant with spirit.

Thankfully we are not obliged to choose between these two theories of the origin of human intelligence, for another solution is open to us: that the Spirit who manages the universe, who dictated its laws, took the trouble to build its own likeness into the only living creature able to admire creation. If we are made with a resemblance to the One who made the laws of the universe, then the fact that we can have some understanding of the universe becomes intelligible.

What I propose to do is to make an inventory of this fleshly home which we inhabit. I will try to detect certain affinities and connections between the way we are built and the history of scientific discoveries made by human intelligence. I will not pretend to give historical proof for my interpretation of certain rather well-known data, but maybe you will forgive me such boldness if I candidly admit at the start that all my stories are true - but some of them are truer than others!

Let's consider the origins of mathematics. The handbooks tell us that geometry was born in Egypt. Long ago floods used to fill the Nile valley every year, and after the waters withdrew, an unusually level surface was left; what could be more natural, upon this flat plain, than to sow a few Pyramids! This is supposed to be how geometry came into being. I doubt it, and I'll tell you the truer story. Now the truer stories are not always those which are part of history.

Lovers, as you have probably noticed, spend long hours looking into each others' eyes. Languages around the world bear witness to this in the way they name the little round window that is our opening onto the outside world, the hole inside the iris. In English as in French, we call it the pupil, from the Latin pupilla, the little girl. All languages use the same metaphor. Greek uses chorea, which means "little girl." The Spanish are more precise, the nina del l'ocho, the little girl inside the eye. The comparable Arabic word, Insan el ein, means "a little being inside the eye," and if you were Iranian, you would speak of mardomak, "the little one." In every country you would find the same thing.

Such a convergence owes nothing to randomness and everything to observation. When the lover looks closely into the eye of the beloved, he sees his own image reflected on the spherical surface of the cornea. This tiny figure is so much more brilliant than the dark field of the pupil that it stands out. MY guess is that women were the first to discover this interesting property of the spherical mirrors. That explains why most languages say "the little girl of the eye," and not "the little boy." Love sees a child in the eye of the beloved; this is a true fact.

But I was telling you the history of geometry. A young Egyptian once felt in love. He was gifted in mathematics and one day he fell into contemplation; looking at his beloved very closely, he suddenly discovered the only surface in the world which could give us the idea of a geometrical plane. The eye is made up of two spheres, a sphere with a very small radius, the cornea, and a sphere of a larger radius, the ocular globe. At their intersection on the outer surface of the eye is a circle on which are anchored the tiny fibers of the iris. If our Egyptian had been a mechanic, he would have invented the wheel, a circle from whose center many spokes emerge. But he was mathematician; he suddenly realized that these fibers are stretched by the contraction of the orbicular muscle which closes the pupil. Each point of the iris is thus at the smallest distance possible from any other point of the surface. Today theoretical geometers would define a plane by the tensorial calculus; this is what our Egyptian lover did. if schoolboys were only told the natural history of mathematics, they would appreciate hearing that you can understand Euclid just in a blink - if you are a lover!

Some millennia later Descartes had the admirable idea that any given point of a plane could be represented by its abscissa and coordinate. You can repeat this discovery any time you wish. You only need to be in your room, preferably when you've just woken up. With two fingers stroke your eyelids a little so that you exert a steady pressure on your eyes. That will produce phosphene. There is a point at which the pressure will turn your whole field of vision into a chessboard of tiny squares, some of them brilliant gold, and some of them dark purple along the vertical and horizontal axes of your eyes. You will find that the Cartesian coordinate system is pre-printed - wired inside our eyes. But its discovery needed a doubting philosopher rubbing his eyes to see: if he had seen well.

If we go a little deeper into the eye, the light will reach the retina, where we find a sphere divided exactly by a meridian line(1). The cartographers only needed to drew similar lines of latitude and longitude to make a sphere like the one already drawn in their own retinas. If we were to go father and deeper we would see how these impressions are carried by nervous signals and finally join in the obscure center which sees. Now if you look carefully at the way the visual cortex is built, you will find fibrous spaces and lattices in an isomorphic system. One by one, you will discover all the steps of the modern algebra.

We started our trip from the outside, from the window we have open on the world. At every step we found that the discoveries of geometry were made in the same order as the progress of light coming in from the outside. It cannot be by chance that the history of mathematics recapitulates the sequence of the steps by which we today, just like all our ancestors, examine the world. In the development of mathematics we discover progressively the way we were built, the way we are made.

We could make the same point with other parts of our neurological anatomy, for example, the inner ear and our equilibrium system. Inside the three semicircular channels of the ear there are tiny crystals which are set in motion when we move. These tiny crystals hit tiny cilia and this is what allows us to keep our balance.

You know the story of Newton sitting under an apple tree and seeing an apple fall. When he then noticed the moon in the sky, he imagined that it was falling toward the earth and invented general attraction. That's not the true story. When you are lying under an apple tree, you don't see an apple falling down, you hear it. When you hear it crushing the leaves, you suspect there is some danger that it will fall on your head, so what you immediately do is to sit up. At that moment the semicircular channels of 'the ear with their sensitive cilia are simultaneously giving us the sensation of acceleration, inertia, speed and position in space - all the elements necessary for the law of general attraction. Great physicists just rediscover the way they have been made.

In a similar way, neurologicaly speaking, Galileo use the cochlear system of time-keeping built into his own ears. He discovered gravity by singing a song! He had a little slide, at the top of which he used to let a marble loose. Then with a piece of chalk he would put a mark on the slide at the point reached by the marble when he came to a certain beat in the song he was humming. We still have in his own handwriting the measurements he made. At that time there were no clocks with sufficient precision to measure how far the marble had fallen in a given time. There was no photography, no stroboscopy. But there was a time-keeping system that we too have wired within our brains, the one inside the cochlear system, and Galileo used it very cleverly. He wrote that he first noticed the regularity of the rhythm of a pendulum swinging in a certain church when he was just seven years old. It all seems very obvious, but how did he know that the period of the pendulum swings was constant? It was his cochlear system.

If the great discoveries in physics were made by a kind of intuition about the neurology of our sensations, mechanics should help us to understand our whole rational mechanism. Pascal did just that. When he was able to mimic arithmetic calculation on a machine with rows of wheels and cogs, he demonstrated for the first time ifs history that it was possible to build into matter some logic by giving the matter the proper form. That was an immense discovery. The huge computers of NASA are the progeny of his humble calculating machine. Within the computing systems presently in use we find curious parallels to our own make-up. First, there is a pre-established circuitry which is logical by construction. Secondly, the transmission of signals from one part of the machine to other specific locations takes place without diffusion of the signals. Third, the answers of any component are, according to the binary system, either YES or NO, a binary logic. All the rest is from the devil!

Our synapses work in precisely this way. By a very complex process the end of one nerve cell expels a chemical mediator; the molecule landing upon the next cell changes that surface so that, one by one, it will engulf certain ions and not others. The organ of our reason (a device which excludes the fortuitous and only keeps the deducible) is a particle-counter at a fantastic velocity.

Step by step we see that a human being is, strictly speaking, an incarnation of intelligence. And if there is a likeness between a machine and a human being - for I'm not going to tell you that machines are a model of our brain - it is because machines like computers have been designed by our own intelligence, and our own intelligence functions according to the way our brain was designed. It will then be no surprise if computer-breakdown also mimic some diseases of the mind. If, for instance, a whole rack of computer hardware has been burned out, the whole computer becomes dull for the function for which it uses that rack. In much the same way, if some parts of our brain are destroyed by the hydraulic pressure of hydrencephaly, or some virus or injury, we have a deterioration of the brain's performance.

I have given you a picture of how intelligence is built into each human being. But this very precious quality can be impeded or destroyed, for example, by drink. With several glasses of alcohol, even the best mathematician soon becomes unable to extract a square root; but in a few hours, when the alcohol has worn off, he will be as intelligent as before.

But it is not only a toxin which can blur our intelligence. Things as simple as temperature can block it. If you have a fever, your thoughts seem to move too fast to catch. But if your temperature drops below normal, your mind becomes progressively paralyzed, and at 20 degrees Celsius, there is complete unconsciousness.

Even when we are not running a temperature our minds only work within a very narrow range of speed. For example, if we are trying to follow an argument, we cannot think very, very fast; we have to say this..., then that..., then that.... We, cannot say that, that, that, that, that - it doesn't work that way. It takes time to think correctly. But we can't think too slowly either. Try to go step by step as slowly as you can. Suddenly some other thought will cross the field of your consciousness and you will lose the thread of your thought.

It is a fantastic computer we have been given, one which is able to invent new computers - but we have to learn how to handle it well. This is true especially nowadays when some people think that children with mental deficiencies should be rejected. They do not really understand what they are saying.

Feeble-minded people often have their mouth open and their tongues hanging out, and their faces give no impression of intelligence. Why?

They do that because they cannot manage everything at the same time: closing their mouths and also having their tongues inside involves a voluntary command, not an automatic one. If they want to use what little power they have to do something in particular, they have to let go of everything else. Well, all of us do the same thing! Just look at a great artist admiring something beautiful. His mouth will be open, and sometimes there will even be a little saliva dripping!

If the eyes are really the mirror of the soul, the whole body is a house of the spirit. In fact, we are split into two parts. It is extremely difficult both to use the enormous network that we call the reason with the hold it gives us on the laws of the universe and the even greater network called the heart with its surges toward love and hunger and life. The difficulty of the human condition is that heart and reason do not talk easily to each other. Every philosopher has found this, and we all know it from experience: heart and reason do not always live together in mutual understanding. Our generation is so impressed by the discoveries of the mind that it stands in great danger of forgetting the other side of reality where lovers and poets and mystics live. We should never separate heart from reason. If we do, human intelligence will not survive.

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Beginnings and development of human life

we have been trying to understand how the physiological substrate of the mind in early human life is a gift of the Spirit inborn in us. Let us now try to envision the beginnings of human life and the roots of the human ability to discover the laws of the universe.

It may surprise you, but in genetics we hold that there is no such thing as living matter. Matter cannot live, it cannot reproduce or be reproduced. If we have a statue and want to make a replica, we can make a mold and obtain an exact correspondence between the original and the mold, and then between the mold and the replica. But what will be reproduced is not the matter of the original, for the matter we put in tree mold will be plaster or bronze. What will be replicated is the form which was imprinted on the matter by the genius of the sculptor.

The same goes for the reproduction of a living creature. It is much more difficult than producing an inanimate effigy, but the principle is the same. What is handed from one generation to the next is not the matter but the information carried by the matter, imprinted on the matter. There is a message about one meter long written on the DNA inside the head of a spermatozoa, and another one meter long inside the ovum. I could summarize the whole story without inaccuracy by saying simply:

At the beginning there is a message.This message is in the life and this message is life.And if this message is a human message, this life is a human life.

You will recognize this as an awkward paraphrase of the beginning of St. John's Gospel. But it is also the beginning of the whole theory of the transmission of genetic information within living systems. The great surprise when we are dealing with human beings is that at the beginning, in this little sphere of one millimeter and a half, all the necessary and sufficient information to spell out each and every one of the qualities of the person that nine months later we will call Peter, Paul or Margaret is already there. With the unfolding of this extraordinary formula written on the first cell we find that the matter is obliged - forced! - by this information to build an extraordinarily complex system which has intelligence built into it. If all the information is already there at the beginning, it means that it is the spirit which animates matter, and matter which helps the spirit to be manifested. The old quarrel of materialism against spiritualism is definitely forgone: "Between Matter and Spirit, it is the Spirit that matters!"

To review with you what we know about the beginnings of this incarnation of the intelligence, I will use the seven gifts of the Spirit.

The first gift of the Spirit is Wisdom. Wisdom is the crown of human intelligence, and in medicine it is very obvious why this is the first gift. In medicine we are obliged from the very start to have the wisdom to know why we are planning to use a given technique. We need to know what the goal of our whole discipline is. If we do have not this wisdom, all is lost.

Let me explain by telling you a story. About forty years ago there was an abortionist here in the U.S. named Thiersch(2) who was trying to apply to the destruction of the baby in utero a recently discovered drug, aminopterin, which blocks the action of a vitamin, folic acid. It is for just this reason that aminopterin is used against cancer: it prevents the manufacture of monocarbons, the smallest building-blocks used in the formation of DNA and RNA, molecules which transfer information from the nucleus to the cytoplast, and thus make all the functioning of our cells possible. If you block folic acid by aminopterin, the cell will not be able to reproduce the DNA and thus will not multiply.

Thiersch assumed that since it prevents cells from dividing, the baby would stop growing and be miscarried. This is what happens and he killed around forty babies that way some forty years ago. But some of them survived for a long time in utero and these showed very severe deformities of the brain and of the nervous system, spiny bifida or anencephalia because the neural tube was not entirely closed. In his report on this data Thiersch noted to his great dismay that although aminopterin was efficient in killing babies in utero, it was dangerous for the mother (some got dangerous anemia) and produced grave malformations, so he judged that it was not a good technique. His report got buried in the literature, and nobody noticed it.

Thirty years later Smithells (1980) and Laurence (1981)(3) in England noticed that the amount of folic acid was low in the blood of mothers whose babies showed abnormalities of neural tube closure (anencephalia or spiny bifida). They got the idea of adding folic acid to the pregnant women's diet. Nowadays the frequency of spiny bifida and anencephalia has diminished by factors of 4 to 5 in England(4).

Now if Thiersch had been experimenting on animals to understand the reason why abnormalities of the neural tube were appearing, he might have understood that because an antifolic was producing the disease, the prevention would be to use folic acid. If he had applied the treatment, the prevention of these terrible malformations would have been used the world over now for fifty years. Hundreds of thousands of babies would have been saved from terrible malformation. Yet because he was not trying to fight against disease, but trying to kill babies in utero, he did not understand what he had under his very eyes. Because he had published a report that it was inefficient for abortion, nobody noticed it.

This is a true story: if you do not have the wisdom to know what you are doing as a doctor, then even if you see the facts, you will not understand them. No wisdom, no understanding And the Understanding is the second gift of the Spirit.

Genuine understanding is becoming extremely remarkable nowadays because a lot of people pretend that the more knowledge we have about the beginning of life, the less we understand what a human being is. We are told this every day in every paper. But human nature, really exists, as I tried to show you before, and we can see it.

About four years ago, an English gentleman, Mr. Jeffries, invented a way to split DNA into several pieces and to use a special probe that produces a pattern typical of a given individual's DNA. It's rather like the barcode on items you find in a supermarket with lines of different widths and differently spaced. Just as a computer can tell from the barcode the price and the type of the item you've bought, we can now recognize each person by the Jeffries technique.

Two things are absolutely obvious: first, each of us has a unique genetic barcode (the number of possible combinations is much higher than the number of people now alive), and second, some bars are inherited from Dad and other bars from Mom. We can tell whether someone's alleged parents really are the parents of this particular person; or if there has been some mistake (whether a mistake of love or a mistake in the nursery), we would find that some of the bars of the baby could not have come from the father or from the mother. But if we looked at all the people of the town we would be able to find out from whom these bars came, beyond any doubt.

Now it is very curious that at the very moment that the laws of genetics, which have been known for fifty years, can now be used to demonstrate paternity and maternity beyond any doubt, some people say that we do not know what human nature is or whether human nature exists. Whenever I meet people who do not believe that there is a human nature, I sometimes tell an old joke which contains a lot of truth: I have often seen very learned people in universities asking themselves very gravely whether very young children are not really some type of animal, but in the zoo I have never seen a congress of chimpanzees asking whether their children will grow up to be university professors!

A lot of people will tell you that they cannot really believe that the tiny little creature inside the womb is really a human being. If you want to get this information across to them, you might want to remind them that on this earth there is only one stupid creature who normally practices abortion - I speak about the kangaroos in Australia. King kangaroos can be just about as big as human beings - the adults weigh about 75 kilograms - but the uterus of mother kangaroo is very small - and her brain is very meager. All poor mother kangaroos have a spontaneous abortion at two months. What is expelled is exactly the size of the two month old human fetus, a little Tom Thumb about as big as someone's thumb. This little creature does not look at all like a kangaroo but like a little sausage. Its limbs are very rudimentary, with just a tiny claw at one end, and the creature has no knowledge that its mother has a pouch. But it feels the gravity, because its labyrinthic system is already there, and as soon as it is expelled, it crawls upward in the fur against gravity and finds the pouch and falls inside; once inside it takes the tiny nipple for another seven months.

Now the miracle is that mother kangaroo will not allow any other animal to go inside her pouch! And if you consider that mother nature takes the trouble to wire inside the meager brain of mother kangaroo some neurological signal that makes her able to recognize the kangarooness of this tiny sausage, I cannot believe that nature hays not given the one and a half liter brain of the ordinary professor of genetics the ability to recognize the humanity of tiny humans.

After wisdom and understanding, we need Counsel, - the prudence to do the best for those under our care. Five hundred years before Christ, Hippocrates devised an oath in which he said: "I will use my art with honesty..., I will not give a poison even if asked to do so, and I will not suggest such a course, and I will not give an abortifacient to a woman." In the same sentence the wise man of Cos who founded medicine said "no" to both euthanasia and abortion. For more than 2000 years physicians have sworn that oath, and only recently in nations long civilized has this oath been denied. This is a very regressive phenomenon if we remember what an advance this oath was for medicine.

There once was a city in Greece whose citizens used to examine their new-borns (they didn't have amniocentesis yet!) to see if the boys were strong enough to be soldiers and if the girls were strong enough to engender soldiers. If not, they exposed them in the mountains to be eaten by wild beasts. That city was Sparta, the only Greek city to use this terrible selection-method. It is also the only Greek city which has not given humanity any poet, any artist - not even any ruins! Today on the plain of Lacedaemon there is nothing left. Genius was extraordinarily present in Greece, but the only place to leave nothing to humanity was also the only one to kill her own flesh.

Two hypotheses occur to the geneticist to explain this curious phenomenon.

Perhaps by killing these fragile and weak children, they were killing their future artists, geometers and poets. Without knowing it, they were practicing counter-selection. The other hypothesis is that it is because they were already very dull, they began to kill their own children. Both hypotheses could have some truth.

Counsel tells us, that every human being must be protected, not because he is strong, rich, wealthy, healthy, intelligent or powerful, but simply because each one is a member of our kind. If any other reasoning is adopted, moral crisis is inevitable. The only way to prevent moral disaster is to respect each member of our species simply because this creature belongs to our species.

But to preserve wisdom, counsel and understanding we need the fourth gift of the Spirit, Fortitude. If we lack fortitude, we will see the other three collapse - in fact, this is now happening in our own civilization. A year ago a law was enacted in England and signed by Her Majesty the Queen of England, that an embryo up to 14 days is not to be considered a human being and may be used far experimentation. Now this law has not been publicized in the newspapers very much, in the world, but the only thing which it forbids is to implant a human embryo in a non-human animal! Thus the guidelines for such experiments do not distinguish humans from animals!

Now you must remember that in England a law has no power if it is not signed by the Queen. If this law were telling the truth, it would mean that the Queen of England was non-human for the first 14 days of her life, and likewise for her father and for the whole line. But if the line was interrupted at each generation by an animal for 14 days, then there is now no Queen of England because the dynastic succession was interrupted. But if there is no Queen of England, this law was not legitimately promulgated!

This is a bad law and an illogical law, for it starts with a distortion of the evidence in saying that there is no human being for the first 14 days of life. Now it is not just discourteous to suppose that the Queen of England was conceived as an animal! It is not true - I am entirely sure she was conceived as a human being; the contrary would be inconceivable!

This law would also declare the members of Parliament and the Lords of the High Chamber to have been animals when very young, but I cannot believe that the destiny of a noble nation should be given to former animals!

Even if laws are voted for and signed by the proper power, they cannot change the truth. They may be "politically correct," but they are not really "correct." we need fortitude to resist these lies. There is a man with such fortitude, the King of Belgium. When the legislature voted to allow abortion, Baudoin refused to sign. But the legislature was adamant, so he stepped down from his throne so as to explain why he could not approve a bill which removed the protection of law from some of his subjects. In his absence the law was enacted by the government, and then a vote of both chambers was taken to restore his powers as King. There were some abstentions, but not one votes against him, even though it was a secret ballot and there are a lot of people against monarchy in Belgium. But they judged that in conscience this man was really the king, for he had refused to exclude some of his subjects from the protection of the law. As the old Latin tag has it, "est regi tueri civet", the job of the king is to protect the citizens. In democratic countries this is the duty of the legislators. If they fail to do it, they don't do their job.

Next we come to knowledge, and science is a good way of acquiring knowledge. Thanks to my friend Morton Palmer I was called to give testimony in Maryville, Tennessee in the famous case of the frozen embryos. My point was to explain that those seven embryos, which we knew to have been the result of the fertilization of a human ovum by a human sperm, those of Mary Davis and her husband, could not be animals and that they had to be human beings. To explain the cryogenic preservation of these embryos, I noted the relation between the time we measure by a clock and the heat we measure by a thermometer. Time (tempus) is the flow of reality, and temperature is just the speed of the molecules. If we lower the temperature, we progressively freeze time. For those tiny human beings, frozen in a can of liquid nitrogen, time was frozen, put at a stand-still. The low temperature arrested their metabolism and those vessel in which we could concentrated hundreds of such frozen embryos really became for them a concentration can. A newsman asked if I said "a concentration camp." No, I said, a concentration camp is a system invented horribly to accelerate death. A concentration can is a system invented terribly to decelerate life. But in both cases, innocents are arrested.

We know that they are human beings because we know that they have in-built the structures of intelligence. At the very beginnings of life the form and its substratum, the soul and the body, are so intricately entwined that we use the same term to define how an idea comes into our mind and how a body comes to life, the conception of an idea and the conception of a baby. It is not simply an oddity of language, but a wise description of nature, for at the beginning we are really a tiny bit of matter animated by the spirit.

In vitro fertilization has made it evident that the beginning of our lives can happen at other places than the female womb. Conception takes place at the moment of sperm's envy within the ovum; it is not related to any later process, such as implantation. In this field there are some important phenomena just now being discovered. At the very start of the process, right after the sperm has entered the ovum but when there is still no mixture of the nucleus of the ovum and the nucleus of the sperm, there are still two cells. There never is a one-celled living system. Chromosomes of each pronucleus divide and migrate upon a common spindle, so that there is a split into two cells; then a division into four, into eight, into sixteen. This process has been known for about fifty years, but we have not understood why they then suddenly press together to make a little ball smaller in diameter than the zona pellucida, the 'plastic bag' that is the wall that protects the embryo's developing life.

This "compaction" is very intriguing, because if you look at the geometry, you find seven cells at the equator, three at the top, three at the bottom, with three left for inside. These three cells will build the tiny astronaut while the thirteen surrounding ones will build his space/time capsule.

Now this explains something about the attempts to mix cells from different embryos. Suppose we put a few cells from a black mouse and a few from a white one inside the same zona pellucida. Most of the time the experiment fails, but sometimes it results in a mouse with fur like a chessboard of black and white. The experiment has been done with three, and then you can get a mouse with three different cell-lines. But you never get more than three cell-lines, no matter how many source-cells you introduce. The number of cells that can cooperate to build the body is three and no more.

Now we know by experiment that these three inner cells will produce the embryo while the others make the surroundings, the placenta and the amniotic bag. On the other hand, if for some reason these early cells do not compact at 16 and do so only at the next division when there are 32, there will be six cells in the middle; three of them could build an embryo and the other three another embryo, a set of identical twins. Twinning is possibly just an error of counting. This error indicates the intelligence built into the counting function of the first cell.

Another very interesting discovery was revealed only a few months ago in a fantastic talk Foidart, a Belgian doctor, gave at the French Academy of Medicine. He discovered that the hemoglobin of an embryo is different from the hemoglobin of a fetus.

It has long been known that at two months the tiny human being has produced the amniotic bag and the chorionic bag all around herself. What Foidart found is that the mother's blood does not enter the intervillous space. Up to the third month of pregnancy the embryo does not receive oxygen from the mother through a true placental oxygen exchange-system. The books say this, but the books are wrong, and Foidart has demonstrated it. Only in the third month does maternal blood enter this space and thereafter the child receives its oxygen directly from the mother's hemoglobin. But during the first three months it receives oxygen diffused in the special liquid of the intervellous space, not by a direct transfer from the mother. This is possible because a special type of hemoglobin (the embryonic hemoglobin) is able to withdraw oxygen from the liquid rather than by exchange with the red globules of the mother. This means that in the future, when a baby is growing inside the Fallopian tube (and there is great danger that the tube will rupture, with death for mother and child unless we operate), there will possibly be a way to nourish the baby in a special liquid so that it can survive until transplantation to the womb. This has not yet been achieved so far as we know, but the discovery of Foidart now makes it theoretically feasible.

However, the side-effect of this discovery is that it may became possible to sustain fetal life for two to three months in vitro when the right fluid becomes available. I hope we do not do this, but it would show one thing: the baby is not just a part of the mother's body. If the bottle were to pretend, "This baby is my property", nobody would believe the bottle!

The sixth gift of the Spirit is Piety, but piety is not in fashion today. In particular, the piety of children toward their parents is not expected, at least in the world of television, but there is piety in the genetic world. We have learned that in the sperm some stretches of the DNA are, so to speak, underlined by a process we call methylation of cytosine. All male reproductive cells show the same stretch of DNA underlined. Likewise, all ovules have the same stretch underlined, but women underline a different segment than the men. Like an intelligent student who underlines what is important for the next examination, the sperm and ovum underline what must be used very soon at the beginning of life, what is underlined in the male is the way to build the membranes and the placenta, and what is underlined in the female is the way to build all the small pieces with which the baby will build himself. Now if at fecundation the male nucleus is expelled and only the female egg is left to divide, there will be no human being. It will start to make spare pieces: tissues, skin, nails, but all in total disorder. On the contrary, if only the male chromosomes are there, it will produce membranes, vesicles, and so on, but none of the actual parts of the baby. Thereby we have a kind of proof that even in the first cell, this little sphere of one millimeter and a half, a division of labor like the division we know so well in adult life is already written inside this miniature system. The male is to go hunting and to build the hut, the mother is to tend to the baby. It was a touch of piety in this entirely materialized world that geneticists discovered that at the very beginnings the, father was transmitting how to build the hut while the mother was transmitting how to behave as a baby.

The last gift is Fear, not fear of technique, but fear of the misuse of technique. For if we forget that we are creatures, if we lose our respect for the Creator and play at being the Creator, then His creatures will be endangered. What we need to fear is a bad use of our powers, especially given the exponent increase in these powers in, say, tree time since I was a student. Genetics has changed in fantastic ways which no one foresaw, and the dangers grow greater every day. For example, some people have proposed a kind of miniaturized cannibalism: to inject fetal brain tissue into the brains of those affected by Parkinson's disease. But the reports on this in the newspapers are wrongs it doesn't work. There is no one who has ever been cured by that technique, but a tremendous number of fetuses between two and four months have been vivisected so that their brains could be taken alive and their living cells alive injected into the brain of Parkinson's patients. Why, this total lack-of respect for new human beings seems like something straight out of one of Hitchcock's horror movies, and it even turns out that the name of the doctor who developed the technique was Hitchcock!

Other developments are more hopeful. Sullivan, for example, has been able to make an artificial pancreas by inserting pancreas cells from a cow into a special capsule and injecting it into a dog whose pancreas he has removed. Because they are embedded in a special membrane which prevents the spilling over of the antigenes of the cow, insulin is produced and those dogs are now living with an artificial pancreas long after they should have died of diabetes. It has not yet been tried in humans and it will probably take another year of experiment before becoming available as a treatment in our species.

There are also examples to show that one does not have to manipulate human embryos to attempt a cure for a disease like cystic fibrosis of the pancreas, whose detection in utero now leads to killing so many babies by abortion. It has been found possible to manipulate a type of influenza virus so that within this virus a gene can he activated to produce the a-1-antitrypsin which a baby suffering from pancreatic cystic fibrosis cannot produce. They have made it work in dogs and I supposes that it will not be more than a few years until it becomes available for human use.

Yet another opening is the marvelous discovery by the Italian Tramontano, who has found a way to teach a body how to make an enzyme which the body is unable to make because of a genetic failure. It works not by changing or manipulating the genes, but by using the antibody system. When an enzyme changes one molecule into another to make a specific chemical reaction, this molecule takes a very special shape that we call its "excited" shape that is quite different from the molecule's normal shape. It is very unstable and occurs only when the molecule is inside the crevice of the right enzyme. Now the genius of Tramontano's idea is to build a molecule which has the same geometry and the same electrical properties as the "excited state" but is stable. This is some very complex synthetic chemistry, but he achieved it. If this molecule is injected into an animal, the animal will make antibodies and these antibodies will make the needed reaction. He called them "catalytic antibodies" - remember the name Tramontano. You will see it in the newspapers several years from now when he gets the Nobel Prize. By this technique, without endangering anyone, we will someday be able to teach to a person whose genetic structure is unable to make a certain reaction how to build the necessary antibodies. What a marvelous way of using the built-in intelligence already inside our bodies.

There is a Latin phrase about this final gift: "timete dominum et nihil aliud" - fear God but nothing else. If we biologists remember that, we will not play Cod or disrespect those who have been made in his image and likeness. If we have this fear, then humanity has no need to fear technical progress; genetics will remain the honest servant of medicine. But if we forget it, then there will be great reason to fear an extremely powerful but denatured biology. We already possess a very clear yardstick to measure our progress or regress. If we use it, we will be the good servants of the human family, but if we forget it, we will be its dangerous enemies. A very simple phrase which judges everything :What you have done to the smallest of mine, you have done unto me.


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