Ok, the news is just trolling me now.
How many revelations about modified humanity can the world pack into a single week? Lately, it seems the answer is “infinite.”
NPR published a piece this week on the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos. Scientists construct these “chimeras” to study and develop new cures for a range of diseases. Those diseases will theoretically progress through human organs inside each hybrid.
Animal research has used chimeras for a while now, particularly with mice. But we now have the first (reported) incidence of the human-animal variety.
Pablo Ross of UC Davis, one of the scientists, grows the DNA-edited embryos in the wombs of adult pigs.
Wanna know the best part of this wholesome, not-creepy practice? The scientists don’t know which human organs will show up.
Could be a liver. Could be a brain.
Human-animal bioengineering is probably here to stay. If so, I hope it produces those hoped-for cures. Safeguards, you ask? Ross terminates the chimera embryos at 28 days.
28 days later…. (Come on, it was right there. I couldn’t help it.)
The real fun begins when one of the pigs escapes the lab—or is set free by a grad student with a grudge and a dark side. It can wander and eat garbage until the chimera comes to full term, popping out right in front of an unsuspecting family.
Girl: Daddy, that pig just gave birth to a baby boy that is also a bird and also a salamander.
Father: (playing Candy Crush on phone) Oh, that’s just a chimera.
Girl: What’s a chimera?
Father: It’s like finger-painting with DNA.
Girl: What’s DNA?
Father: Daddy’s busy right now.
Girl: I’m scared.
Father: It’s a brave new world, honey.
Bioengineering only applies to new organisms, so it’s less exciting from an aspirational standpoint than tech mods. I won’t be able to give myself cheetah DNA to revive my Olympic dreams.
But hybrid animals will eventually make it to the private consumer. What will become available? I love Bullet the Asthmatic Panther, but he can’t fly. He can’t help with the laundry. He can’t make pizza.
The top three hybrids I’m saving my pennies for:
- Turtle/wolf/scorpion for home protection
- Horse/bird for commuting (No, I will not name it Pegasus)
- Guinea pig/blueberry, because that would be adorable
H.G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is 120 years old this year. Genetic engineering was too sciencey in 1896 even for Wells, so his version of Dr. Moreau made human-animal hybrids by sewing body parts together.
But the message is the same—toying with nature is really fun! risky.
Film producers have yet to make a decent adaptation of that classic novel. But a film that deals with the same ethical issues? Oh yeah. Just check out Splice, one of the more freak-out-worthy movies I’ve ever seen.
I don’t need to see it a second time. It plays on a loop in my nightmares forever.
The bioengineering debate is one of potential risk vs. potential reward. But it’s also purely academic. Even if we legislate against human-animal hybrids, the world will plunge ahead. Countries or private groups, or both.
Which means it’s coming, whether we want it or not. I could have fun with the idea, or I could curl up in the fetal underneath my bed. I choose FUN. (I also choose fetal, but only between the hours of 6pm and 6am).
I want to hear from you. I could ask which medical advances justify the research risks, but that’s waaaay too serious.
I’d rather know your most desired pet hybrid. I’ll even give you the first one for free, no laboratory costs or retailer markup.
Kitten-ladybug? Panda-frog? Tell me!