Lab Freaks Gone Wild?

Scientists plan to make “cybrids” by putting human DNA into cow eggs.The British government gave the go-ahead this week for two separate groups to experiment with the process. Scientists will “inject human DNA into empty eggs from cows, to create embryos known as cytoplasmic hybrids that are 99.9 per cent human in genetic terms,” according to The Times of London.

The government had planned to ban such cybrid research, but scientists protested, leading to the reversal.

U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) lashed out today. Last November, they introduced the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act, S. 2358, to prevent the crossing of humans and animals because they say it unethically “[blurs] the line between human and animal.”

The argument is an emotional and speculative one, scientists would say, conjuring images of lab freaks gone wild that no reputable researcher envisions. Nobody has suggested the cybrids be raised and let loose in London (or Manhattan, for that matter, where the movie will likely be set. I mean, whoever heard of London being taken over by cybrids?).

“Creating human-animal hybrids could irrevocably harm the basic human genetic makeup and intentionally or unintentional change what it means to be human,” Brownback said in a statement today. “What was once only science fiction is now becoming a reality, and we need to ensure that experimentation and subsequent ramifications do not outpace ethical discussion and societal decisions. History does not look kindly on those who violate the dignity of the human person. The UK’s decision to allow the creation of human-animal hybrids is short-sighted, and further underscores our need here at home to enact the common-sense Brownback-Landrieu Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act.”

If  Brownback and Landrieu have their way, science might proceed quite differently on the two sides of the pond.

“Here in the United States, we simply cannot open the door to the unethical blending of humans and animals, which the British government seems intent on doing,” Landrieu said. “It creates an unnatural species and is a clear line we cannot cross. This unsound science also presents potential global health hazards due to increased risk of disease spreading to humans from animals.”

Meanwhile, U.S. scientists have produced embryos that are clones of two men, another possible step toward useful stem cells for research.

They used “ordinary cells from an adult human can be used to make cloned embryos mature enough to produce stem cells, the researchers said. But because they haven’t produced those stem cells yet, experts reacted coolly,” according to AP.

All this sort of work is intended to lead, eventually, to disease cures by creating alternatives to human embryonic stem cells that will assist in other research. Embryonic stem cells can become any cell in the body, so the idea is that tapping their potential could help build replacement organs or infuse a person with fresh brain or blood cells or simply provide vital information about how diseases work. Much of the potential remains unproven and cures for intractable ills could be years away. But scientists agree that embryonic stem cells are a crucial line of research to pursue in efforts to cure Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and others.

January 18th, 2008
Author Robert Roy Britt

Science: Life Science 

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