Well, behind the scrim of the apocalypse theater, as the world’s financial markets crumble and there is sword-rattling from Tulsa to Tel Aviv to Tehran, you may have missed this significant “little” development being reported over at phys.org:
Please note what has prevented the genetic engineering of such chimerical primates previously:
“Mitalipov says it appears that primate embryos prevent cultured embryonic stem cells from becoming integrated as they do in mice. Their study also suggests that cultured primate and human embryonic stem cells, some of which have been maintained in lab dishes for as long as two decades, may not be as potent as those found inside a living embryo.”
In other words, a means has been found that had hitherto prevented the engineering of such chimeras within primates. The clue to the new technique is outlined in the article itself:
“The chimeric monkeys were born after the researchers essentially glued cells from separate rhesus monkey embryos together and successfully implanted these mixed embryos into mothers. The key was mixing cells from very early stage embryos when each individual embryonic cell is totipotent, capable of giving rise to a whole animal as well as the placenta and other life-sustaining tissues. (This is in contrast to pluripotent stem cells, which can differentiate into any tissue type in the body, but not extra-embryonic tissues or entire organisms.)”
The potential is now obvious, for homo sapiens sapiens is, of course, a primate, and the potential is now wide open for similar techniques to be applied to more advanced primates, as we have blogged hereon this site previously: we can imagine human chimpanzee chimeras, “humanzees” for example. In any case, Malitipov indicates and implicates human experimentation is just around the corner:
“‘We cannot model everything in the mouse,’ Mitalipov continued. ‘If we want to move stem cell therapies from the lab to clinics and from the mouse to humans, we need to understand what these primate cells can and can’t do. We need to study them in humans, including human embryos.’ He emphasized, however, that there is no practical use or intention for anyone to produce human chimeras.”
But this is, to my mind, more than just a bit disingenuous, for if such studies are to be done in human embryos, it stands to reason that similar chimerical engineering techniques would have to be applied, and thus, inevitably, science will wonder and inquire about the long term effects of its engineering, and hence, such chimerical creations will have to be allowoed to grow and mature. And with this will inevitably come the debate on whether such a creature is “human” or not in the sense of its civil rights. Already we see where the trend is going by the adoption of morally neutral sounding “scientific” tems: “embryo,” “foetus,” and so on. So I want to go on record here and now, that in my opinion, clones, chimeras and so on, should be accorded such protections and rights, and should not be considered the mere “property” of whatever corporation or laboratory as concocts them. Down that path, as I outlined in Genes, Giants, Monsters, and Men, lies a trap.
But let there be no mistake, for the issue will become one of “drawing the line.” Should such rights and protections be accorded to a chimera with, say, only 1% or less of human DNA? What about a chimera with, say, 98% human DNA and only 2% rhesus and other creatures? Is the question reducible to such statistical and percentage point materialism at all? Rest assured, the ethical issues are not going to go away, but only grow more and more intense.