Could Animal-Human Hybrids be in our Future?

Category: Markets / Finance / Jul 25, 2011 12:04PM EDT
As a future consisting of animal-human hybrids starts to look less science fiction and crystallize into view, a British panel monitoring the progression of DNA mixing is now calling for ethical or regulatory boundaries for some experiments. A report released on Friday by the Academy of Medical Sciences, scrutinizing the use of quote, “animals containing human material,” in biomedical research, says that while a majority of the experiments currently in play do not require stricter regulation, there are a small number of future experiments that could very well test certain boundaries and push up against “social and ethically sensitive areas.” The sensitive areas now in focus include those where human brain cells might change animal brains, the fertilization of human eggs in animals, and any modifications to animals that may create attributes that are uniquely human, like skin, speech, or facial features. As of yet universal regulation and oversight does not exist and practices currently differ, in some cases quite dramatically, by region. British law currently forbids combining human cells with the great ape family, while scientists in China have already infused human stems cells into goats and in 2003 combined human cells with rabbit eggs, reportedly the first human-animal chimeras ever successfully created. The embryos were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before their stem cells were harvested effectively destroying them. In the U.S., an effort to study the human brain’s potential for repairing damage caused by stroke, has scientists now considering putting human brain cells into mice. While most of the current experimentation in place has been used primarily for the development of drugs and disease-related therapies, debate has existed throughout with many disagreeing on where to draw the line. Disturbing possibilities have come to the fore and observers are asking tough questions like, what new subhuman combination would be produced and to what end? At what point would it be considered human? And what rights, if any, would such a species have? U.S. federal law does not at present address any one of these issues.