By Frank Whalen -
Like yelling fire in a theater where the crowd is long gone and the building is already a pile of ash, the scientific community’s warning of the dangers of human-animal hybrid experimentation may be too little, too late.
In a new report, scientists are warning that science fiction could become science fact unless some safeguards are put into place.
The UK Daily Mail reported, “Prof. Martin Bobrow, a medical geneticist at Cambridge University and co-author of the report, said society needed to set rules before scientists began experiments that the public would find unacceptable.”
He explained, “We are trying to get this out in the open before anything has happened.”
Using the forthcoming film Rise of the Planet of the Apes as a point of reference, the story sources Prof. Thomas Baldwin as saying: “The fear is that if you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates, suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human—speech—or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us. These possibilities that are at the moment largely explored in fiction, we need to start thinking about now.”
There are two different aspects of research that are relevant to the warning: A creation referred to as a “chimera” where full DNA is used fromtwo separate and individual animals to create a new one, and a hybrid
where genetic parents each contribute half of the genes.
The word chimera has it origins in Greek mythology, the name of a fire-breathing creature described by Homer in the Iliad as being “lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle.”
However, science lauded the first modern chimera in 1984 when scientists from the Institute of Animal Physiology in England created one from a sheep and a goat.
National Geographic reported: “Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells.”
The aforementioned story also quotes Jeremy Rifkin, a biotechnology activist, as saying: “One doesn’t have to be religious or into animal rights to think this doesn’t make sense. It’s the scientists who want to do this. They’ve now gone over the edge into the pathological domain.”
In 2005, The Sun newspaper ran a story that shows what scientists have tried to accomplish in the past.
“Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered his scientists to cross humans with apes to create an invincible breed of Red Army soldiers, secret documents show,” reported the Sun. The experiment, taking place in the 1920s, ultimately failed.
The newest warning, according to the Daily Mail, states, “Animals containing human material that approach ethical or regulatory boundaries” should be monitored, and research that “engenders human-like behavior” should be made illegal.
However, asking scientists and their government grant-writing political overseers to not engage in something that is deemed possible and scientifically interesting is often a lesson in futility. Perhaps if the scientific community cannot rein itself in based on morals and ethics, they can recall the fate of Ilia Ivanov, who headed Stalin’s human-ape hybridization project: Ivanov was arrested by Soviet police on Dec. 13, 1930 and was sent to a labor camp, where he died just two years later at the age of 62.
Frank Whalen has been a radio talk show host for the past 17 years, and worked as a consultant for Maxim magazine. For more news and views from Frank, see www.frankwhalenlive.com.
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(Issue # 33, August 15, 2011)