Genetic Engineering Brings Little Shop of Horrors to Life

As you view this notice the cocky attitude at creating monsters

Bio-Engineering Chimera Parts

 The news these days reminds me of a desert landscape as twilight deepens with mirages, undulating shadows, and stark contrasts. I return to cover some of the news from the Exponential Medicine conference in San Diego. One of the speakers was Dr. Andrew Pelling at the University of Ottawa, who was intrigued to see if he could manifest game-changing medicine and bring to life the science fiction movie cult classic The Little Shop of Horrors. Just gist of the movie, if you have not seen it, was the creation of a cannablistic plant called Aubrey 2. Carnivorous plants such as the Venus Fly Trap are a part of the Laws of Nature, but this plant ate people. "What you have here is a plant-like creature with mammalian features," said Pelling at the Exponential Medicine conference. “So we started wondering: can we grow this in the lab?” 

Pelling set out to see whether grocery-store-bought plants can supply the necessary structure for engineering replacement human tissues.

Image:  Andrew Pelling at Exponential Medicine

Rise of Mechanobiology

Pelling and other innovators are viewing everything in the world as the microenvironment to bio-engineer human tissue and spare parts for the body. Can one, let's say, fabricate a replacement ear? Today, scientists carve and shape bio-compatible materials or 3D print hollow support structures. These would then be seeded with human stem cells and meticulously nurtured and nourished to coax them to grow. After intensive incubation the cells spread as skin-like cells on the scaffold which will eventually become a replacement ear. This is a very laborious and costly procedure. Pelling and researchers began to look at cells as living components that stretch, compress, and sheer producing mechanical forces that can be exploited. Mechanical forces regulate the molecular machinery of your cells. Physical forces can drive cells to divide and migrate through tissues as our genetic code guides the formation of an entire body.

Mechanically stimulating cells changes their behavior. Pelling's team put skin cells in a Petri dish, salted it with cancer cells which instantaneously huddled together into balls with a clearly demarcated barrier between microtumor and skin cells. Things changed when the team simulated breathing by stretching the cells. The result as that the cells became aggressive and bored into the layer of skin. 

“There’s no gene modification…or biochemistry going on here. This is a purely mechanical influence,” said Pelling, who discovered that the shape of their microenvironment is enough to direct cell actions into forming three-dimensional complex patterns. The team also discovered that cells learn to separate and spatially pattern over long ranges. 
The stage was set to for the team to take their discoveries to the next level, the hybrid apple-ear.

Apple of My Ear

Microscopically, the microenvironment of an apple has the same engineering surfaces for fabricating replacement tissues. That discovery got the team to wonder: is it possible to exploit that surface pattern of plants to grow human organs?

Much as an artist begins their masterpiece with a new canvas, the team washed away all the plant cells, DNA, and biomolecules from an apple. What remained was a fibrous scaffold, a falsework canvas. The team then brushed human and animal cells inside the scaffold and they began to grow. And so they hand-carved an apple into the shape of a human ear, and within a few weeks transformed the apple into a fleshy human ear. 

The next step is truly alarming, for when the team implanted this apple scaffolding into a mouse the rodent cells invaded the hybrid matrix and produced new collagen and blood vessels to keep the scaffold alive. 

Supposedly, there are three ethical standards for engineered tissues:

  • They are safe,
  • They are biocompatible,
  • They come from a sustainable, ethical source.

“This thing is becoming a living part of the body and it used to be an apple, and we did this by going to the grocery store,” said Pelling.

Moving to the Medical Market

Pelling is especially excited by his finding of the simplicity and elegant exploitation of the physical structure of the plant. We have been on a slippery slope since the advent of genetically modifying of plants with human, animal, insect, and other foreign constructs.

The team will expand this same technology to engineer soft tissue cartilage, bone, and spinal cord and nerve repair. Pelling is excited to see bold ideas translate into a medical revolution. He is convinced that we should not restrict ourselves to the body parts nature gave us. If the shape of a scaffold is the sole determinant of engineering a tissue or organ, why not design our own?

You guessed it, here come the Spock ears! Pelling has commissioned a design company to sketch out the scaffold for three different types of ears: an average human ear, a pointy Spock-shaped one, and a wavy one designed to suppress or enhance different frequencies to augment hearing.

“The point I want to emphasize is…the strength of blue-sky thinking is actually coupling it to the rigor of the scientific method,” Pelling concluded. Ultimately this is how we’ll create more inventions and solve problems.

Blood of the Chimera

Image access: Reservoir of Blood-Forming Stem Cells Discovered in the Human Gut

Inventing scaffolding to augment and alter life is not the only discovery on the table. Scientists at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons report a surprising new finding: the human intestine may provide up to 10% of blood cells in circulation from its own reservoir of blood-forming stem cells. Previously, blood cells were thought to be created exclusively in the bone marrow from a special population of stem cells. The team’s study (“Human Intestinal Allografts Contain Functional Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells that are Maintained by a Circulating Pool”) appears in Cell Stem Cell.

Please make note of the following statement because scientists and doctors have known for some time about the cellular memory of the donor to transplant recipients. Now for the statement:

“Human intestinal transplantation often results in long-term mixed chimerism of donor and recipient blood in transplant patients. We followed the phenotypes of chimeric peripheral blood cells in 21 patients receiving intestinal allografts over 5 years. Donor lymphocyte phenotypes suggested a contribution of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) from the graft. Surprisingly, we detected donor-derived HSPCs in intestinal mucosa, Peyer’s patches, mesenteric lymph nodes, and liver,” wrote the investigators.

Image Accessed:

Recently a novel blood supply pool was discovered in your gut. This novel pool within the intestine it is troubling as researchers are discovering blood of patients who had received intestinal transplants contained cells from the donor. The researchers tracked the donor’s blood cells back to their source: hematopoietic stem cells in the donated intestine. If this was merely a cellular blood transfusion it would be different, but when the word novel is used it means that there are other engineered forces at work.

With the advent of GMO's, glyphosate, autoimmune disease, and other chemicals destroying the microbiome of man and beast alike, a new field of medicine has come to the forefront: intestinal allograft or fecal transplant. It may sound appealing, well - maybe not so appealing, but possibly enticing to go for this treatment, except that from the peer journals I am reading one is up against several challenges:

  • Genetic modification (GMO) or synthetic gut bacteria
  • Cellular memory from the donor
  • Coded (hacked) bacteria being transplanted that can do anything within your body. For instance, why is the intestine creating its own blood supply? This is not normal, no matter what they say. 
  • Rejection
  • Difficulty in establishing a successful circulating pool.
  • Life threatening complications

When a person receives a transplanted organ, the immune system often recognizes the new organ as foreign and destroys it. Immunosuppressive drugs blunt these responses, but that makes the patient much more susceptible to infections and other complications.

Medical coaches are 'educating' the recipients’ white blood cells to be 'tolerant' of donated tissues and cells. Is this tolerance just at the cellular level, or does it extend into the psyche and value system of the recipient? And if the cells are not human, what does a person become when the cells begin to proliferate in a human body? There are those in Translational and Integrative Medicine who say, at the get-go, you are not really human because foreign cells outnumber human cells in your microbiome:

 Ed Yong explains:

"More recent estimates, he noted, put the total number of human cells at anywhere from 15 trillion to 724 trillion, and the number of gut microbes at anywhere between 30 trillion and 400 trillion. Which gives a ratio that can best be expressed as ¯\_(ツ)_/¯."

“We are clearly showing that there’s immunological cross-talk between the two sets of blood cells that protects the transplant from the patient’s immune system and protects the patient from the transplant,” said Megan Sykes, M.D., director of the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology.

Of late it has been noted that patients with more donor blood cells experience less rejection which makes sense. But what of the memory that comes with these cells? Do you become more like your donor than yourself?

These days medications are labeled old school and therefore bad so with this new procedure it is being bantered about transplanting a few organs to increase donor-recipient cross-talk, that will provide stem cells thus reducing rejection and medication, but at what cost? 

Other types of transplants may benefit from similar interventions, even for organs that don’t appear to carry their own reservoirs of hematopoietic stem cells.

Brave New Chimera World

Inverse news this week is declaring this is the Dawn of the Pig-Humans, while the FDA is rolling out its massive 2-year Biotechnology Action Plan which calls for:

  • Altering specific traits of plant foods
  • Improving the health and welfare of food-producing animals by making them all GMO
  • Introducing plants and animals for human medical use, xenotransplantation and production of pharmaceutical substances.
  • Altering organisms

The FDA is promising to:

  • Advance public health by supporting innovation (fallen angel technology).
  • Foster innovation (fallen angel technology) in animal biotechnology
  • Advancing innovation (fallen angel technology) in plant biotechnology.
  • Celebrating 25 years of GMO (we are not all dead) so expect great things.
  • Creating a VIP Program for the intentional altering of genomic DNA in animals, tissues, animal cells, and cell-or tissue-based products that provide 'benefit to human health, animal health and animal well being (meaning you must be compliant for good standard practice animal husbandry improvement), and food production.
  • You can expect unified and positive messaging that all is well with innovation in the food sector, no labeling needed.
This week I will be exploring some other medical news that indicates we have entered into the Brave New Golden Age of the Chimera, so shall be the return to the Days of Noah. 

Inspirational Moment


 By Gary

A butterfly so beautiful

Shades of elegance with striking colors-

Blues and reds, yellow and black, golden orange, greens and purples

Intricate lines, streaks and spots with splashes

In bold and subtle simultaneous patterns

That glow in sunlight and darkness,

It flies with the wind or against

Soars as if floating from flower to flower,

Enhances the image of each captured in a heightened glance

A moment held close

With a sharpened memory that lingers;

Just as countless Monarchs cover a tree

Then, startled in a sudden gust and sounds

In a surprise touch each set apart

Much like the unique beauty of each woman in a crowd

Those to delight in with individual honor

To take righteous, pure pleasure in a human creature

Every person appreciated for who they are

Respected as a being formed in eternal purpose to reflect eternal beauty,

Even though the outward beauty drifts away in a heavenly wind

A steady breeze that changes the outside

While the inside hopefully glows brighter

In knowledge and prayerful wisdom

The only beauty that truly matters, that lasts

Like a fine treasure becomes even more so,

The priceless gift of Life from the King in His Royal Beauty;

Her eyes will soon behold Majesty in Splendor.

As more than any worldly or earthly blossom

Any and every flower that blooms with butterflies fluttering, dancing about

Each chosen Kingdom daughter radiantly clothed more than many lilies in a vast field

Covered by exquisite moths among breathtaking butterflies.


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