Database of embryonic information set up to keep voters, scientists informed

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TEMPE, Arizona -- Two Arizona professors and an international team are working to build an online library of information on controversial issues relating to embryonic research, including stem-cell research, cloning and abortion.

The Embryo Project will allow scholars and voters alike to access information relating to embryonic issues, often the subject of international debate, said Jane Maienschein, director of Arizona State University's Center for Biology and Society.

Ms. Maienschein and her ASU colleague Manfred Laubichler said they simply hope to inform others on the subject.

"It's really pathetic that the public is asked to vote on things like stem-cell initiatives with so little understanding of what they're talking about," Ms. Maienschein said.

The database, which is being funded by a three-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, will include scientific, historical, legal, ethical and cultural literature on embryonic research, Ms. Maienschein said.

Scientists also will benefit from the Embryo Project, Ms. Maienschein said, adding that they often do not take the time to look up historical concepts relating to their research.

"In the science lab, you look at stuff from the last couple years at most because you're not trained to look at the older material," she said. "The most interesting work might be a hundred years ago."

The first work with stem cells took place in 1907, but stem-cell research only became part of public debate in 1998, Ms. Maienschein said.

The ASU professors are collaborating with international specialists in compiling relevant literature for the database, Mr. Laubichler said. Several workshops, including one held Sunday and Monday, will create a forum between experts in different fields.

"This is an ongoing effort to digitize our culture, our scientific heritage," Ms. Laubichler said.


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