Are you ready for human-monkey hybrids? How about human-rat or human-mouse combinations? Can you accept the justification being given by scientists and government officials giving their approval that it’s for a ‘noble cause’ – creating much-needed human transplant organs – and that no actual hybrid creature will be brought to full development? That they will be interrupted or destroyed or ‘terminated’ before they reach that point? Well, get ready for some hybrids because the news out of China and Japan recently says they‘re either approved, just around the corner or already here. Can there be any scarier development in the world today?
Let’s start with the human-monkey hybrid. Announced by the Spanish news source El Pais, a team led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa genetically modified monkey embryos to deactivate the genes that create organs, then injected them with human stem cells that generated human organs instead. If his name sounds familiar, it could be because in 2017 Juan Carlos Izpisúa announced that he had created human-pig hybrids. Izpisúa works for the Salk Institute of the U.S. in conjunction with (ironically) the Catholic University of Murcia (UCAM) in Spain. The research is done in China where regulations against such experiments are lax at best. They also prefer to call the human-monkey combinations ‘chimeras’ because they’re not half-human and half monkey but merely monkeys developing human organs. Less creepy but still unethical enough that they destroy the embryos after 14 weeks to avoid more controversy. While his human-pig chimeras were ultimately unsuccessful, Izpisúa is confident it will eventually work and be accepted by the general public.
“History shows us again and again that, over time, our ethical and moral scales change and mutate, like our DNA, and what yesterday was ethically unacceptable, if that really means a breakthrough for the progress of humanity, today it is now an essential part of our lives.”
This takes us to Japan, where that country’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines saying human-animal hybrids or chimeras can now be gestated to term and recently gave approval to renowned geneticist Hiromitsu Nakauchi at the University of Tokyo to create the first ones using rats and mice. In The Asahi Shimbun, Nakauchi described his plans to genetically modify fertilized eggs of rats and mice to deactivate the genes for making a pancreas, then inject them with humaniPS (induced stem) cells in the eggs, place them in rats and mice and allow them to be born, where their development will be monitored. As a precautionary measure, they will examine the brains of the rodent embryos after they reach a certain stage of development and end the experiment if the number of human cells in occupies more than 30 percent of the rat’s brain. That would signal that the human cells are taking over – a situation that is considered unethical … but still legal.
"We don't expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point."
While the researchers say they plan to create human livers and kidneys as well as pancreas, Nakauchi tries to assail fears by saying the chances for living hybrids are nill.
“At that level, an animal with a human face will never be born.”
However, monkeys with human organs are already being recreated in China, where Nakauchi’s Japanese restrictions, minimal as they might be, are non-existent. You don’t have to have seen “Island of Lost Souls” (the 1932 pre-censorship horror film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “Island of Dr. Moreau”) to come to the conclusions of Jiro Nudeshima, a life science specialist who co-heads a civic group focusing on the ethical concerns raised by life science research. He tells Asahi Shimbun:
“It is problematic, both ethically and from a safety aspect, to place human iPS cells, which are still capable of transforming into all types of cells, into the fertilized eggs of rats and mice. There is also a risk that a certain body part unexpectedly becomes chimera, a condition in which heterologous cells exist in one body, by mixing human cells into the brains or reproductive cells of rats and mice.”
Dr. Moreau had no restrictions and an isolated island filled with apes and big cats to experiment with. Could it happen in real life?
Has it happened already?