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April 25, 2021

"Scientists Create Early Embryos That Are Part Human, Part Monkey," and I see slightly fewer than 1,000,000 ways this could go badly.

I for one, welcome our new monkey overlords.

I'm not saying that this will result in a race of monkey-slaves doing the bidding of their AI overlords thereby heralding the extinction of the human race, I'm just saying...

Okay, I'm saying that.

Regardless, I am going to nominate this as the week's most unintentionally comical line:

But some ethicists worry about how such research could go wrong.

But need not worry, they have no intention of turning the earth into a dystopian hell where humans are hunted down like animals.

Belmonte acknowledges the ethical concerns. But he stresses that his team has no intention of trying to create animals with the part-human, part-monkey embryos, or even to try to grow human organs in such a closely related species.

They have only good intentions and as everyone knows the road to hell is paved with...

Uh, oh.

"I don't see this type of research being ethically problematic," said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University. "It's aimed at lofty humanitarian goals."

Interestingly, given that the Chinese Communist Party is currently accused of harvesting organs from Muslim slaves for transplant, this could actually be a step up for them, ethically speaking.

And yes, this is starting to sound like the opening act of every single disaster movie ever.

But, I'm probably overreacting.

"My first question is: Why?" said Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University's Baker Institute. "I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we're just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do."

Okay, okay, so we have the impassioned moral case for caution being made by the concerned outsider scientist.

Monkey Slave 1

I'm thinking Catherine Zeta-Jones.

And then there's the scientist blind to the moral hazards of his work, ignoring the warnings, obsessed as he is with the purely clinical aspects of his work and speaking in the antiseptic terms of the amoral.

"This is one of the major problems in medicine — organ transplantation," said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, Calif., and a co-author of the Cell study. "The demand for that is much higher than the supply."

Monkey Slave 2

I'm picking up a Robert Duvall vibe here but we need someone younger.

Dwayne Johnson it is.

What am I talking about? In 20 years, this will be what the cast looks like.

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The science itself is fascinating. Thousands of people do die each year because of a lack of available organs for transplant, and earlier efforts to create these "chimeras" using sheep and pig embryos (human bacon! try to unremember that!) have failed.

...So Belmonte teamed up with scientists in China and elsewhere to try something different. The researchers injected 25 cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells from humans — commonly called iPS cells — into embryos from macaque monkeys, which are much more closely genetically related to humans than are sheep and pigs.

After one day, the researchers reported, they were able to detect human cells growing in 132 of the embryos and were able study the embryos for up to 19 days. That enabled the scientists to learn more about how animal cells and human cells communicate, an important step toward eventually helping researchers find new ways to grow organs for transplantation in other animals, Belmonte said.

See, no ethical dilemmas here, move along.

"Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster," Belmonte said.

It never is.

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Believe it or not, it hasn't gotten weird yet.

But this type of scientific work and the possibilities it opens up raises serious questions for some ethicists. The biggest concern, they said, is that someone could try to take this work further and attempt to make a baby out of an embryo made this way. Specifically, the critics worry that human cells could become part of the developing brain of such an embryo — and of the brain of the resulting animal.

"Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else?" Rice University's Matthews said. "At what point are you taking something and using it for organs when it actually is starting to think and have logic?"

Let's dial it up just a bit more.

"Nobody really wants monkeys walking around with human eggs and human sperm inside them," said Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist who co-wrote an article in the same issue of the journal that critiques the line of research while noting that this particular study was ethically done. "Because if a monkey with human sperm meets a monkey with human eggs, nobody wants a human embryo inside a monkey's uterus."

Oh, yuck!

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Greely said he hopes the work will spur a more general debate about how far scientists should be allowed to go with this kind of research.

"I don't think we're on the edge of beyond the Planet of the Apes. I think rogue scientists are few and far between. But they're not zero," Greely said. "So I do think it's an appropriate time for us to start thinking about, 'Should we ever let these go beyond a petri dish?'"

It's telling that it does not even occur to him that the petri dish can be problematic. At what point are we dealing with an embryo that is arguably human? What would be the criteria? Is it even possible to create a criteria?

For several years, the National Institutes of Health has been weighing the idea of lifting a ban on funding for this kind of research but has been waiting for new guidelines, which are expected to come out next month, from the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

An article announcing this from 2016:

"Part-human, part-animal embryos."

J.

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April 25, 2021 at 04:15 PM in Science | Permalink

Comments

I hear you. Many of them are just as corrupt as most politicians. Sad.

Posted by: bluebird of bitterness | May 2, 2021 10:48:51 AM

I trust science! Scientists? That's another matter entirely, lol.

Posted by: Planet Moron | May 1, 2021 8:57:49 AM

So what are you saying? That you don't trust the science?

Posted by: bluebird of bitterness | Apr 30, 2021 11:59:27 AM

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