Yeah, you heard it right. They’re mixing human and monkey genes to try to create weird human monkey hybrids. At least that’s what the conspiracy theorists are going to believe.
The official goal for this group of researchers is to pave the way for more accurate models of human biology. Now while the medical benefits may be huge, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Which is the big ethical issue such research may cause.
A chimera is basically an organism with multiple DNAs. It can naturally occur when non-identical twins merge in the womb or it can be artificial just like what these scientists are doing. Merging animals has been going on for decades using cross-breeding and gene-splicing but this is the first time it has been attempted on human genes and been a success.
The research has been done by a group from the Salk Institute and Kunming University of Science and Technology. The team began using monkey blastocysts, that were injected with 25 human extended pluripotent stems (hEPS) cells, six days after they were fertilized. Sure enough, the results showed that human cells were able to survive and even proliferate inside monkey embryos in relatively high numbers.
According to Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, senior author of the study, “As we are unable to conduct certain types of experiments in humans, it is essential that we have better models to more accurately study and understand human biology and disease”. He further added that “An important goal of experimental biology is the development of model systems that allow for the study of human diseases under in vivo conditions”.
If they do succeed this could open up paths for human monkey hybrids that would be used for medical research. These chimeras could also be used for organ transplants. However, all this raises a lot of ethical flags. Critics will blame scientists for the practice being unnatural and religious sects will call these practices sacrilegious and acts of playing god.
The good thing is that the researchers understand all the implications as Juan Izpisua added that “It is our responsibility as scientists to conduct our research thoughtfully, following all the ethical, legal, and social guidelines in place. Ethical consultations and reviews were performed both at the institutional level and via outreach to non-affiliated bioethicists. This thorough and detailed process helped guide our experiments.”
All this reminds me of Terraformars except instead of cockroaches we have monkeys.