Genetic engineers are again giving mice a sneak peek at human existence. The series of experiments continue with engineers marrying human brain tissue with the brains of a mouse. The question is what do we expect to learn and how many genetic engineers can repeat the same experiments to what end? Do we not know that human brain cells or brain tissue injected into mice brains significantly enhances their memory and problem solving abilities?
The most recent research projects involved use of the FOXP2 gene that in humans is linked to the difficulty of forming words. As part of the research it was discovered that there was a difference between this gene in humans and those in chimpanzees. This subtle difference is thought to be one of the keys to the development of language capabilities in humans as opposed to chimpanzees.
This initiated a series of experiments by various researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany. One group of researchers put the human version of the gene in mice brains. They showed that the “humanized” mice had greater complexity in their calls of alarm to other mice and much greater frequency of these calls.
A subsequent study dealt with the straitum, a part of the mouse brain. This is the region of the brain that is involved in the rate of learning in mice. The issue that was raised was would the human FOXP2 gene affect the rate of learning in mice.
This study looked at both types of learning; consciously breaking a task into its constituent parts and the habituating of activity so that the sequence of tasks becomes an unconscious repetition. For example, the study showed that humanized mice performed faster than normal mice in mazes that involved both types of learning.
Of interest, the performance was the same in mazes where just one type of learning was involved. It was felt the advantage of the humanized mice was they were much quicker to habituate repetitive tasks than the normal mice.
This follows research of Steve Goldman that use Glial cells (thought of as junk genes that support the human brain) to see if the genes could boost mouse intelligence. An article in the High Tech Society states, “Previously, he inserted fully grown Glial cells into an adult mouse, and watched as their intelligence and memory leapt off the charts.”
The article continued, “He experimented with mouse pups, using immature glial cells from donated human fetuses. Each mouse pup received over 300,000 immature glial cells, which, inside of the mouse brain, quickly matured and took over for the mouse glial cells, multiplying to some 12 million, and completely replacing the native cells. Adult mice who had received this transfusion exhibited memory capacity of about 4 times that of an ordinary mouse.”
The point is that these experiments are repeated hundreds if not thousands of times by researchers who are on a learning curve or hope to get a different outcome from each experiment. It multiplies considerably the odds that a humanized mouse or mice may find a way to the wild and cause incalculable harm to our environment.
Imagine the difficulty we would have catching and killing such a humanized mouse. Its reactions would be different. It could learn different strategies to try as it infests the human environment. It would react in more effective ways to other predators that would hunt it (e.g. cats).
These experiments with mice are today the only public source describing experiments that are underway. Other experiments that mix the genes of disparate species of animals are taking place out of the public view. These and these mice experiments are what we need to regulate and control.
Other than NIH funded projects where experimenters have to adhere to government mandates these experiments continue to have only self-imposed regulation. Our government continues to take a hands-off policy to regulating these types of experiments. That would change in a nanosecond if one of these experiments went awry and one of these humanized animals gained access to our environment.
Government regulation, control and oversight are necessary. As the previous article about synthetic biology states, this regulation needs to be consistent and worldwide in scope. This is the only way to minimize the risk to those who inhabit the planet.
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