It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain pace with technology and its moral and ethical implications. Genetic engineers have already created chimerical creatures, part one species, part another, and pigs and rats and other animals have been used to grow Dr. Moreau-like "manimals", animals growing this or that human body part; we've seen glow-=in-the-dark rabbits, cloned sheep, pigs with human blood, super-mice with bits of human brains able to run labyrinths faster than their ordinary counterparts; we've seen robots run over toddlers and even a robot killing recently (Isaac Asimov, where are you?). And of course there is the whole transhumanist movement's advocacy of human-machine "interfaces".

Well, this isn't quite a human-machine interface, but the real question is, what is it? (This article was shared by many readers here):

Scientists Create Successful Biohybrid Being Using 3-D Printing and Genetic Engineering

Note that this little creaturoid (for want of a better term), was created using both genetic engineering and three-d printing. But that isn't the problem; the problem is this:

Like most disruption, it started with a simple idea. Kit Kevin Parker, PhD, a Harvard professor researching how to build a human heart, saw his daughter entranced by watching stingrays at the New England Aquarium in Boston. He wondered if he could engineer a muscle that could move in the same sinuous, undulating fashion. The quest for a material led to creating an artificial ray with a 3-D-printed rubber body at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard. Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University's Medical Center joined the team.

They reinforced the soft rubber body with a 3-D-printed gold skeleton so thin it functions like cartilage. Geneticists adapted rat heart cells so they could respond to light by contracting. Then, they were grown in a carefully arranged pattern on the rubber and around the gold skeleton.

And of course, this all comes with the now predictable appeal for everyone to think in terms of how wonderful all this is, and of all the potential health benefits it might bring:

Science of this type is fundamental for engineering special-purpose creations such as artificial worms that sniff out and eat cancer. Or bionic body parts for those who have suffered accidents or disease. Imagine having little swimmers in your system that rush to the site of a medical emergency such as a stroke. The promise of sensor-rich soft tissue frees robots to move more easily and yet not be cut off from needed input. Sensitized robot soft tissue could perform without the energy-sucking heaviness of metal or the artificial barrier of hard-plastic exoskeletons.

Thanks to disruptive, cross-disciplinary applied science like this, entrepreneurs in the next few years will be able to play on the border of what life is, what alive means, and what life can be.

The problem here isn't confined simply to what this little creaturoid is - is it animal? machine? - the problem begins to take on moral and ethical and jurisprudential aspects when one "upscales" this to engineered robots with human brains (or brain tissue) used to form its central processors. The inevitable result will be a philosophical discussion as to whether such hybrids are indeed conscious persons, or not. I've blogged about such problems before on this site, so today I want to concentrate on yet another looming issue, one brought home by GMOs:

Over the past decades, as GMOs were introduced into the food chain, we've seen increasing studies that have suggested that they, and their accompanying pesticides, have disrupted the complex environmental biospheres in which all life lives: it is now clear that there is some relationship between GMo introduction and colony collapse disorder in bee and other pollinator populations; declining bee and butterfly populations have been the result, as has declining yields and cost-to-productivity ratios in GMO vs non-GMO fields. There have also been studies documenting the rise of certain types of cancers correlating to the rise of the use of glyphosate, and so on.

The point is, one cannot just tinker with one aspect of life, without affecting all of it: individual types of life are not closed systems, they live in complex eco-spheres in highly complex symbiotic relationships. It is, in a word, a true "butterfly effect. The question of the creation of such "creaturoids" thus needs to be expanded: how will such forms affect the current system of symbiotic relationships? What are the long term effects not only to it, but to human life? Will the purported "health benefits" of such technologies really help over the long term, or will they result only in more virulent forms of the very diseases they are designed to combat. Most readers here are probably already aware of the fact that current anti-biotics are losing their potency as nature has adapted to them.

My point here is that before we rush headlong to buy into the warm and cozy reassurances that this will have health benefits, we'd better do the careful intergenerational studies of their effects, and we'd be ill-advised to entrust such studies to the very people - like we did with Mon(ster)santo and other GMO corporation-sponsored "science" - involved with the process.

See you on the flip side...


  1. By all indications, SkyNet is well on the way to becoming real (if not already). The next step for SkyNet is to start engineering the Terminator line. See if this doesn’t sound like early specs for a “Cyberdyne Systems, Series 800 Model 101”:

    “They reinforced the soft rubber body with a 3-D-printed gold skeleton so thin it functions like cartilage. Geneticists adapted rat heart cells so they could respond to light by contracting. Then, they were grown in a carefully arranged pattern on the rubber and around the gold skeleton.”

    “In 2008, ‘The Terminator’ was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the American National Film Registry, being deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.”

  2. A dystopian future has been in the cards for a long time. This future is filling the screen of our present time exponentially faster after the purposed financial Armageddon that transferred most of the world’s wealth into the hands of the moneyed elite; thus sentencing an ever widening inequality of gap poor and wretched masses to live under the high-tech tyranny of the 21st Century wealthy few.

    1. This two-tiered high-tech system is all about and designed for the elitist on one hand; while on the other hand, deindustrialized, zero-growth prescriptions are being written for the rest of mankind.

    2. This GRIN-like elitist technologies are moving the connections between these producers of capital and those human beings who are becoming ever more at risk/disposable populations into a sharply focused reality screen of ruthless power for all to see.

    3. Nano viruses that are race specific; nanobot intelligent swarms that will become a collective intelligence of trillions; where disconnecting from the hive-mind will have the militarized police coming for you; a scientific dictatorship w/o tears;
      and the driver of all this?

    4. Is where all political revolutions and biological evolutions converge; in essential aimed/adapted at changing the environment in order to change the individual.
      Controlling information is the same as controlling the mind.
      We may not realize; but the elite certainly do.

      1. RB,I agree. However, the situation is only lost if we are mere meat bags. (This is why the elite are trying to convince us that we are only meat bags.) Fortunately, there are beyond-meat-bag states that are what really has the elite running scared. In my mind, it is a ‘race’ to see which future wins-out: Transhumanist or Transpersonal…

  3. Unfortunately the groups behind this technology are at heart. If you can say had anything approaching a conscience-heart which they don’t. Are in reality nothing more than serial killers in Brooks Brothers suits. Torture-murder is all that gives these excuses for living being meaning for their existence. Think of them as the Dr. Victor Frankensteins-Dr. Shoul Tuckers except these are all too real and more than ready to harm and destruction for their twisted sense of humor and godism.

    1. Hi Marcos, This may have real health benefits in the future (thinking Bionic eyes and ears for the blind and deaf) but the unfortunate complication that comes with new technology is that its going to make money for someone somewhere and there are evidently military uses for enhancing the body via biomechanics.. (soldiers with extra hearts livers and lungs for exemple..) What I mean to say there is.. Someone somewhere will do it.. because they like money.

  4. When the “locusts with stings like scorpions” show up in their GMO repertoire, then the defecation will have hit the rotary oscillator. Science is traveling down a familiar path in this respect. This has occurred before in high antiquity and the net result was the near extinction of the human species; if ancient texts are to be taken literally. “Science” has seemingly lost its moral compass. Just because you can accomplish something doesn’t mean you should.
    The GMO issue has already begun the alteration of the human and other species, according to some researchers, with the production of their BT insecticide and Glyphosphate showing up in those who eat a diet loaded with GMO foods. Something the US population cannot avoid. They have virtually turned the entire planet into a test tube. At some point, a tipping point will be reached, and once that occurs all bets are off.
    They have seemingly forgotten or are intentionally ignoring that evolution is a built in response to environmental factors. Eventually they are going to let loose something that will evolve into something entirely unintended due to the fact that these chimeras have the potential to cross breed with species unintended by nature. The net result will be an experiment totally out of control within the natural environment. Life will always find a way.
    This may be one reason the universe is not filled with life. At some point every civilization will have arrived at the point we find ourselves at today. It could be that most of them caused their own extinction due to war or scientific hubris. Our species has managed to avoid that once, yet we continue to press our luck.

    1. That’s my contention as well. The reason the universe isn’t more populated is because we are our own worst enemies. It seems fitting that mankind would bring about its own downfall. There’s a biblical lesson in there.

      The scary thing is, I’m afraid we are already at the point that we require an engineered approach to reverse the irrevocable damage done to our bodies and the environment. The infections and health issues affecting humanity appear to be too strong to be overcome by our natural defenses.

      1. Guygrr, it would be ironic if we had to go back to Cro-Magnon or other early types – frozen in glaciers, etc. – to find genetic ‘seed stock’ to renew the species…

        1. please take a look at francis pottenger’s cat experiments. it does not take much time to ruin a species with toxins or lack of nutrients. once damaged, if not destroyed, it takes at least 5 generations of good appropriate non-toxic nutrition to return to nature’s finest forms. the return in complete and unavoidable with proper environment. at least as far as pottenger and friends have been able to see.

          weston price found similar ideas to be true in societies around the planet. variations in diet were the biggest determinant.

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