Man-Beast Hybrids On The
Way - Human DNA In Cow Egg
By Scott Foster
The Edmonton Journal
Melding man and beast may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it's not.
Amid all the advances in genetic manipulation, the idea of combining the DNA of animals and humans has gone beyond the talking stage -- it's been
Indeed, many scientists and academics are wondering how far it might go and what the ethical implications would be. If a human were crossed with a
chimpanzee, for example, would it still be human? And if not, then what would it be?
The first publicized case of animal-human hybrids took place in 1996 when Jose Cibelli, a scientist at the University of Massachusetts, took DNA from
his white blood cells by swabbing the inside of his cheek. He then inserted the DNA sample into a hollowed-out cow egg.
Cibelli's experiment came to an end after a week of growing the cell mass, he told scientists earlier this month at a panel meeting of the National
Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
This raised the question of what might have emerged had the cell mass continued to develop.
"As far as we know, it would still look like a human being, but some of the characteristics of individual cells might be slightly different," said
James Cross, a molecular biologist at the University of Calgary who attended the meeting.
If such an embryo could develop, he said, the result would resemble a human being but carry bovine mitochondria, the energy-producing component of
every cell. This is because the cow's egg shell, or cytoplasm, contains genetic materials known as mitochondrial DNA.
"This suggests that we can create new human-animal species," said Jeremy Rifkin, biotechnology critic and president of the Washington-based
Foundation on Economic Trends.
Rifkin called the experiment "the most extraordinary single development in the history of biotechnology."
Such experiments have become public only when the makers of hybrids, who fund their operations through investor capital, apply to patent their
In partnership with Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology, Cibelli came out from under a shroud of secrecy in 1998 when the firm applied to
patent the alleged invention.
Last October, Greenpeace Germany dug up a patent claim for a similar human-animal hybrid, only this time it involved a pig. U.S.-based Biotransplant
and Australia-based Stem Cell Sciences grew a pig-human embryo to 32 cells before ending its life.
"If the embryo had lived, it would be 95% human," said Michael Khoo, a genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace's Toronto branch. "The
possibilities are not only frightening, but it's unknown just how many other similar patent applications are out there."
Meanwhile, critics and futurists are having a field day speculating on the future of biotechnology.
"Chimpanzees share between 95% and 98% of our genes, so the prospect of creating a human-chimpanzee hybrid are highly probable," Rifkin said. "The
question becomes: What percentage of human genes will it take before human rights kick in? Would a hybrid have to look and talk like a human before it
can get human rights?"
While the concept of making and owning such a creation for 20 years under patent law is controversial to say the least, the science behind combining
animal eggs and human DNA could be useful, said Cross. "In the case of Dolly, it took 277 eggs to get the sheep. In normal IVF programs, the number
of eggs you get usually ranges between five and 10. So, to solve a potential shortage, some scientists have considered using an egg from a different
species to house human DNA."
While such an attempt to improve the egg supply may be scientifically possible, people are not ready for such a brave new world which involves
crossing the species barrier, said Diane Cox, who chairs the medical genetics department at the University of Alberta. "Right now, technology is way
ahead of ethics. The Canadian population is worried enough about relatively trivial things, let alone such a bizarre concept."
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