Scientists associated with the Salk Institute in San Diego, California have injected primate embryos with human stem cells to create a new hybrid that continued to grow for up to 20 days but the scientific community is questioning the ethics of the moral status of the ‘monkey-human’ hybrid created by the scientists in the US and China, these embryos are to be used to help with knowledge on developmental biology and evolution and help in research for cancer treatments.
The idea behind creating the hybrids was that humans cannot be used for all experiments and so a nearly human creature can help solve the problem, said lead author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte.
However, rival scientists have warned about the ethical implications of it, saying it raises questions if these embryos could have human-like faculties. Julian Savulesca, an expert in the ethics of scientific research at University of Oxford said, “The key ethical question is: what is the moral status of these novel creatures?” He also questioned whether these hybrids should be considered human enough that would determine one’s behavior towards them or if they actual have human like mental capacity and how correct it is to use them for research.
Cross-species chimeras (genetic chimerism or chimera is a single organism composed of cells with more than one distinct genotype) have been made by scientists since the past 4 decades with rodents. In this particular study, the scientists were able to create a way to allow the monkey embryos to stay alive and grow outside of the body. Six days after the creation, the embryos were injected with 25 human cells. After a day, human cells were detected in 132 embryos. After 10 days, out of the them, 103 of the chimeric embryos were still developing.
The scientists observed that slowly most of their surviving rates declined and on the 19th day, only three of these chimeras were alive, whereupon they were destroyed.
This particular team had previously also tried to develop a human-pig hybrid earlier which didn’t last along with other hybrid experiments. With the new embryos, the percentage of human cells stayed high throughout the the 20 day period, scientists said.
“This will allow us to gain better insight into whether there are evolutionarily imposed barriers to chimera generation and if there are any means by which we can overcome them,” Izpisua Belmonte was quoted as saying.
The full research was originally published in the journal Cell.