The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, a professional group based in Edinburgh, has published a report on the ethical implications of the practice in the journal Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics. The report is online at www.schb.org.uk.
The article lists some examples of research:
Later research has spawned human-animal creations, the report said. These usually die at the embryonic stage, but often survive if the mixtures involve only a few cells or genes transferred from one species to another.
The council cited the following examples:
* In 2003, scientists at Cambridge University, U.K. conducted experiments involving fusing the nucleus of a human cell into frog eggs. The stated aim was to produce rejuvenated master cells that could be grown into replacement tissues for treating disease. It was not clear whether fertilization took place, but some kind of development was initiated, the report said.
* In 2005, U.K. scientists transplanted a human chromosome into mouse embryos. The newly born mice carried copies of the chromosome and were able to pass it on to their own young.
* The company Advanced Cell Technologies was reported, in 1999, to have created the first human embryo clone by inserting a human cell nucleus into a cow s egg stripped of chromosomes. The result was an embryo that developed and divided for 12 days before being destroyed.
* Panayiotis Zavos, the operator of a U.S. fertility laboratory, reported in 2003 that he had created around 200 cow-human hybrid embryos that lived for about two weeks and grew to several hundred cells in size, beyond the stage at which cells showed the first signs of developing into tissues and organs.
* In 2003, Hui Zhen Sheng of Shanghai Second Medical University, China, announced that rabbit-human embryos had been created by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs stripped of their chromosomes. The embryos developed to the approximately 100-cell stage that forms after about four days of development.
All of this sounds like useful basic science to me.
Such procedures mix human and animal biological elements to such an extent that it questions the very concept of being entirely human, the report said. This raises grave and complex ethical difficulties.
So? Learn to deal with it. It won’t apply for a passport any time soon.
Some ethicists worry that the experiments might force society to make confounding decisions on whether, say, a human-chimp mix would have human rights. Other concerns are that such a creature could suffer from being outcast as a monster, from having a chimp as its biological father or mother, or from unusual health problems.
That was a quick leap from clumps of cells with mixed genes or cells to walking, talking human-chimp chimeras which, as far as I can tell, no scientists are considering of ever making, except mad scientists in cartoons.
Some inter-species mixtures are powerful research tools, the report said.
This became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments in which small sections of brains from developing quails were taken and transplanted into the developing brains of chickens. The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviours could be transferred across species.
Those were realy cool experiments by Evan Balaban, but have nothing to do with mananimals. Those are not genetic chimaeras. Those are surgically transplanted tissues, like you and I getting a pig heart if needed.
While there is revulsion in some quarters that such creations appear to blur the distinction between animals and humans, it could be argued that they are less human than, and therefore pose fewer ethical problems for research than fully human embryos, the committee wrote.
What? What anthropocentric essentialism! And of course, the image accompanying the article is supposed to make you all squeamish:
Why didn’t they put this picture instead?