Monday, May 02, 2005

Biotech tinkering getting out of hand


The first such chimeric experiment occurred many years ago when scientists in Edinburgh, Scotland, fused together a sheep and goat embryo - two completely unrelated animal species that are incapable of mating and producing a hybrid offspring in nature. The resulting creature, called a geep, was born with the head of a goat and the body of a sheep.

Now, scientists have their sights trained on breaking the final taboo in the natural world - crossing humans and animals to create new human-animal hybrids of every kind and description. Already, aside from the humanized mouse, scientists have created pigs with human blood running through their veins and sheep with livers and hearts that are mostly human.

The pros:

Researchers say the more humanized they can make research animals, the better able they will be to model the progression of human diseases, test new drugs and harvest tissues and organs for transplantation into human bodies.
The cons:

Some researchers are speculating about human-chimpanzee chimeras - creating a humanzee. A humanzee would be the ideal laboratory research animal because chimpanzees are so closely related to human beings. Chimpanzees share 98 percent of the human genome, and a fully mature chimp has the equivalent mental abilities and consciousness of a 4-year-old human. Fusing a human and chimpanzee embryo - a feat researchers say is quite feasible - could produce a creature so human that questions regarding its moral and legal status would throw 4,000 years of ethics into utter chaos.

(Total digression but I hear that if they do create a humanzee they plan to name it Steven. In fact, I hear that based on the genetic modeling of Steven, this humanzee will have a penchant for not bathing, laying around all day doing nothing, it will be extremely hairy, and like to fling bananas at pretty women while jumping up and down on his desk in a monkey-like rage.
Serious mode on.

OK, I don't have an issue with using animals to generate human organs. In fact, they are already doing this with pig livers. However, I am not so comfortable when we start to tinker with human and animal brains. In fact, this has the potential to open up an ethical Pandora's Box!

It sounds like the National Academy of Sciences plan to issue guidelines that regulate this type of research:
National Academy of Sciences, the United States' most august scientific body, is expected to issue guidelines for chimeric research this month.
So, I'm hoping that they draw an ethical line here.

The problem is, even if they do I can all but guarantee you that if this can be done, someone on the planet will try it.

This is what worries me...

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