Chimeras gone wild!

I once thought that The Island of Dr. Moreau was nothing more than a cinematic masterpiece. Now, it seems, it may be a view not of the future, but the present, where scientists create human/animal hybrids with only their imaginations to stop them.

From National Geographic.com:


Scientists have begun blurring the line between human and animal by producing chimeras�a hybrid creature that’s part human, part animal.

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells.

In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies.

And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later this year to create mice with human brains.

Watching how human cells mature and interact in a living creature may also lead to the discoveries of new medical treatments.

But creating human-animal chimeras�named after a monster in Greek mythology that had a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail�has raised troubling questions: What new subhuman combination should be produced and for what purpose? At what point would it be considered human? And what rights, if any, should it have?

David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, believes the real worry is whether or not chimeras will be put to uses that are problematic, risky, or dangerous.

Human Born to Mice Parents?

For example, an experiment that would raise concerns, he said, is genetically engineering mice to produce human sperm and eggs, then doing in vitro fertilization to produce a child whose parents are a pair of mice.

“Most people would find that problematic,” Magnus said, “but those uses are bizarre and not, to the best of my knowledge, anything that anybody is remotely contemplating. Most uses of chimeras are actually much more relevant to practical concerns.”

Irv Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine in California, has already created mice with brains that are about one percent human.

Later this year he may conduct another experiment where the mice have 100 percent human brains. This would be done, he said, by injecting human neurons into the brains of embryonic mice.

Before being born, the mice would be killed and dissected to see if the architecture of a human brain had formed. If it did, he’d look for traces of human cognitive behavior.

Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy

I just excerpted the most provocative clips from the article–you should really read the original.

Seriously, though: mice with human brains? Mice being the parents of humans? Are we ready for this?

I would think this whole thing is a joke, but Nat Geo is a fairly reliable magazine, and it isn’t dated April 1. If this is for real, why haven’t we heard any more about this? The imminent birth of a mouse with a human brain seems more newsworthy to me than American Idol or the fact that it’s snowing somewhere.

2 thoughts on “Chimeras gone wild!”

  1. Ezekiel Zechariah

    Quote: "And what rights, if any, should it have?"
    Does that mean, "What privileges should we, as dominant, superior human beings, so generously grant these undeserving creatures?"
    That is not a question that should even be considered, for all living creatures can claim the right to live a life as free from unnecessary pain as possible.
    *sigh* Anybody out there studying ethics?
    ♥ EZ

  2. One of the themes in Margaret Atwood’s recent dytopian novel "Oryx and Crake" has to do with the genetic manipulation of species in a misguided attempt to develop commerical "products" from them… pigoons, wolvogs, bobkittens, rakunks, snats… scary!

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