When you create an animal combining genetic material from a human being and from a non-human animal species, it is known as a Human-Animal Chimera. The word Chimera (ki-meer-uh) came from the name of a mythical Greek fire-breathing she-monster having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. When two of the world’s most advanced nations, within a few months of each other (in July and September 2011), issue panel study results considering the ethics of a specific type of experiment you know something has likely begun which the governments are attempting to catch up to. Such is the case with the experimental creation of human-animal transgenic organisms. Transgenic refers to taking an organism or cells from one species and incorporating the cells or genes from another species into it making the resulting animal “transgenic”.
In fairness, these panels responded to new rules issued by the European Union last year requiring countries to establish national ethics boards to oversee animal research. This of course does not reduce the importance of the panels. A September 27, 2011 article in Science Magazine by Gretchen Vogel compares the two reports, from Germany and the UK, saying about the German report “The report’s philosophical slant – it cites Aristotle, Kant, Hans Jonas, and others – gives it a slightly different flavor from one issued by the British Academy of Medical Sciences in July. That report came to similar conclusions but based its recommendations on what the panel thought the British public would find objectionable.”
Supportive of this last point, apparently some scientists were not concerned about the morality of various experiments but rather the public’s reaction to them. Geneticist Martin Bobrow of the University of Cambridge who chaired the academy’s working group is quoted as saying, “We are trying to get this issue out there before anything has happened. If the public has heard about something, they are less likely to get irritable when something does hit the headlines.” His statements seem to label the U.K. national ethics panel as more of a damage control function than moral watchdog.
The following describe the recommendations of the two panels regarding Animals Containing Human Material (ACHM):
The report recommends three categories for classification of experiments involving ACHM. The first is experiments that should be subject to the same oversight and regulation as other animal experiments. The second category is experiments that should receive extra review before obtaining permission to proceed. Last is a category of experiments that should be entirely off limits. The following are examples of experiments that fall into the second and third categories.
2. Those that modify an animal’s brain to make it more “human-like”
2. Those that place functional human germ cells in animals
2. Experiments that could make animals’ appearance or behavior more human
2. Those that add human genes or cells to nonhuman primates
3. Breeding animals that have or could develop human germ cells in their gonads
3. Those that attempt to transplant enough human-derived neural cells into a nonhuman primate
to prompt human-like behavior
3. Those that allow embryos that mix human and nonhuman primate cells to develop beyond 14
a) Embryos that are “predominately animal,” but still contain human cells are unregulated in the United Kingdom. The report recommends closing that loophole.
b) The germ line of a mature or developing individual is the line or sequence of germ cells that have genetic material that can be passed to a child.
Germany did not recommend categories for experimentation. Using the British categories however, the following are experiments which either require further review and permission to proceed (category 2) or should be banned entirely (category three).
2. Those that make transgenic monkeys with human genes
2. Those that put human brain cells into animals (These need better methods to measure the
effects of such cells on recipients’ behavior)
3. Introducing animal material into the human germ line
3. Those that would lead to the development of human sperm or eggs in an animal
3. Implanting an animal embryo into a human
These panel reports should be cause for concern about these burgeoning sciences. If these are the experiments that two major developed and mature nations are publicly concerned with and talking about, what are all the other counties of the world doing. The fact that reports recommend that certain experiments be banned entirely should be interpreted to acknowledge that the capability to conduct them exists and that they are not banned today. We could assume these experiments and others are being conducted around the world. This is a chilling thought.
Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 13: Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology discusses the science of genetic engineering as having discovered the means to compromise or bypass life’s natural and evolved defenses. Beyond Animal, Ego and Time states “What is happening in synthetic biology and to a large extent with genetic engineering is thousands of people are pursuing a genetic land rush by staking claims to own the genetics of life.”
The public conclusions of the scientific panels of the UK and Germany should give us a small window into what is happening in genetic engineering or, at a minimum, what is possible
Use the following links for more information:
http://www.acmedsci.ac.uk/p47prid77.html (select Report Synopsis)
November 4, 2011, San Francisco, Genetic Engineering