Despite the histrionics of Salon’s Andrea Marcotte , and the not-so-subtle inferences of the Wichita Eagle that pro-lifers are nutty, the creation of animal-human hybrids (called “chimeras”) is indeed worrying at least some scientists.
NPR (National Public Radio) has run stories about the controversy which (as usual) involves researchers impatient with any limitations.
On the May 18, 2016 radio broadcast, of NPR’s “All Things Considered” Rob Stein reported:
A handful of scientists around the United States are trying to do something that some people find disturbing: make embryos that are part human, part animal. … But some scientists and bioethicists worry the creation of these interspecies embryos crosses the line. “You’re getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity,” says Stuart Newman, a professor of cell biology and anatomy at the New York Medical College.
The experiments are so sensitive that the National Institutes of Health [NIH] has imposed a moratorium on funding them while officials explore the ethical issues they raise.
Previously, Stein had filed a report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Nov. 6, 2015, titled, “Should human cells be used to make partly human chimeras?” Stein revealed that the NIH was holding a workshop that day focused on this chimera agenda, and presumably, the funding moratorium.
One of the proposals was to fund “research in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human vertebrate animal pre-gastrulation stage embryos.”
In the written story that accompanied the May 18 broadcast, Stein explained, “Scientists have been creating partly human chimeras for years. …What’s new is putting human stem cells into the embryos of other animals, very early in embryonic development.”
Stein uses as an example, the experiments of Pablo Ross, a reproductive biologist at the University of California, Davis. In simplest terms, Ross’ research:
- takes a pig embryo,
- deletes a gene,
- adds human cells,
- puts the altered chimera embryo into a pig womb,
- checks to see whether a human organ is forming,
- destroys the chimera embryo within 28 days,
- continues such experiments with variations.
ANIMAL-HUMAN HYBRID ETHICAL CONCERNS
Stein lists some concerns about chimera experiments raised by Newman and other professors and ethicists:
- Human stem cells could form human sperm and human eggs in the chimeras.
- Animals could give birth to some kind of part-human, part-pig creature.
- If you have pigs with partly human brains you would have animals that might actually have consciousness like a human.
- If a male chimeric pig mated with a female chimeric pig, the result could be a human fetus developing in the uterus of that female chimera.
Stein writes, “The uncertainty is part of what makes the work so controversial. Ross and other scientists conducting these experiments can’t know exactly where the human stem cells will go. Ross hopes they’ll only grow a human pancreas. But they could go elsewhere, such as to the brain.”
Newman told Stein, “If you have pigs with partly human brains you would have animals that might actually have consciousness like a human,” adding, “It might have human-type needs. We don’t really know.”
The Wichita Eagle story (the basis for Marcotte’s rant) focused on some of the bio-tech issues Kansans for Life included on our Political Action Committee’s questionnaire for candidates to the Statehouse. I was quoted accurately but derisively about pro-life concerns:
“The questionnaire is a way to show candidates the range of the kinds of things that the pro-life movement is interested in…[cloning and animal /human hybrids (chimeras)] has been a concern for over 10 years. We’re not inventing this. This is not crazy stuff. Am I aware of it happening in Kansas? At this moment, no. But does that mean it’s not happening somewhere, I can’t tell you that.”
Apparently, it is happening in the U.S. –and even the NIH is denying funding until vexing ethical questions are examined.