Things are getting weird on this planet, fast. And the Japanese aren't helping, either.
Recently Japanese scientists were given the green light to start splicing human and animal genes, to create “Chimera” embryos that they can harvest organs from. Essentially, they want to use stem cells to grow human parts inside of animal embryos for medical purposes. They say that it will put an end to organ shortages around the world, saving untold lives.
But many in the international community are watching with apprehension. Playing with the building blocks of life itself, splicing genetic material to create new human-animal hybrid creatures is like playing god. Which, inevitably raises some moral questions.
And, more importantly, it’s a practice that could pose a more tangible threat if it gets out of hand. The world is a scary enough place without a bunch of man-bear-pigs running around and ripping people limb from limb. Or some super-swine flu taking hold and killing off all of humanity.
In fact, Scientists have had the ability to mess with genes like this for a while now. CRISPER genome editing technology (which allows people to hand pick genetic traits in human offspring) is not exactly new. That’s been an ethical shit show since 2005.
Which is probably why, few have ventured into the strange moral-scape of human-animal hybrid experimentation: it is cluster-fuck of a situation, on both the scientific and philosophical fronts.
On the one hand, it is a scientific technique that could be used for good, to save lives and advance society to new heights. On the other hand, what are the moral consequences of growing an army of human-animal-chimeras, strictly for organ harvesting? What if those creatures gain some semblance of consciousness? What if they can understand (or at least feel) what’s happening to them?
“These kinds of experiments require very careful ethical discernment, and the scientific community,” Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CAN. “Meaning they need to agree that there are practices they will not do.”
Previously, the Japanese government did not allow scientists to keep any kind of human cell in development longer than 14 days. But in March of this year, the government relaxed its laws on this particular area of research. Now Japanese scientists hope to create human/pig chimeras, that they’ll sustain for up to 70-days.
The experiments will go something like this: the scientists (led by Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, the director of the Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Tokyo) will inject pigs, genetically engineered to be missing certain organs with human stem cells. Those stem-cells will grow and replace the missing organ(s) inside of the living “animal,” except with human tissue that can be surgically removed and sold to a hospital near you.
That concept has some people very excited.
“It has tremendous potential to help many people who are suffering from a broad variety of diseases or in need of different types of tissue or organ replacement,” Ronald Parchem, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Livescience.
Parchem also notes that an animal injected with human stem-cells is very unlikely to gain human qualities (particularly consciousness or intelligence).
And Nakauchi himself remarked to the Asahi Shimun, a Japanese news outlet, that at the level of genetic variation they’re working with, “An animal with a human face will never be born."
Still, one has to wonder what could happen if this technology proves more successful than anyone realized. What if we create living breathing, thinking man-pigs for organ farming? What if they get weaponized?
It’s strange and terrible thing to imagine, but an army of super-strength human-pig soldiers is not one that America, or any other nation on Earth is ready to face. They would be expendable, they would be easily replaceable and they would be terrifying to face in combat (although they might taste alright).
Maybe that’s a little fantastic. But it’s something that humanity needs to consider. Because, now that Japan is edging further into chimera science, other developed nations might start to follow suit. And you can be certain that both China and Russia are already well-ahead of us on this front — governments like those don’t get retarded by public disapproval and “ethical standards.”
Unfortunately, this whole hybrid debacle doesn’t even have to go as far as “Chimera pig-soldiers” to pose a physical threat to humanity. If researchers aren’t careful they might end up enabling a new disease (like swine flu) to pass from pigs to humans. And if that happens it could pose a biological-threat to mankind reminiscent of Steven King’s The Stand.
For now, though, humanity can rest easy. Nakauchi and his team of scientists are only starting their experiments and they are starting them with rats. It may be a while yet before they get a living organ farm growing.
Regardless of where all this ends up, it’s already headed to a dangerously strange place. In the not-so-distant future, our hospitals might be flush with transplant organs grown in pig embryo’s, injected with human stem-cells. They will save lives (probably).
But as soon as those Japanese scientists start talking about designing a real life Hello Kitty, Godzilla or, god forbid, Man-bear-pig, I’m getting off of this planet. There are some lines that we were never meant to cross.