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Biotech Government

Hybrid Human-Animal DNA Experiments Raise Concerns 311

Posted by Soulskill
from the wonder-what-al-gore-thinks-about-this dept.
Kevin Fishburne writes "British scientists are calling for a new agency to oversee the mixing of human and animal DNA, which is progressing at a rate most may not be aware of: 'Among experimentation that might spark concern are those where human brain cells might change animal brains, those that could lead to the fertilization of human eggs in animals and any modifications of animals that might create attributes considered uniquely human, like facial features, skin or speech. ... Some disagree. "We think some of these should be done, but they should be done in an open way to maintain public confidence," said Robin Lovell-Badge, head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at Britain's Medical Research Council, one of the expert group members. He said experiments injecting human brain cells into the brains of rats might help develop new stroke treatments or that growing human skin on mice could further understanding of skin cancer.'"
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Hybrid Human-Animal DNA Experiments Raise Concerns

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  • Burn all the ethics committee, they slow down research and they do not stop abuse; they only stop bad feelings into the weak minded politically correct, they also provide jobs for those wuss. I say burn them! Burn them with napalm, that will teach them!

    • Then how do you propose we stop abuse? Is having no watchdogs better than having bad watchdogs? Before advocating the end of one system, perhaps you could at least provide an alternative?

      • But what is abuse ? can you define one in a meaningful way ?
        • That depends on your world view. But I would define it as generally as possible:

          - Activity that could potentially lead to our end as a race.

          - Activity that increases the suffering of individuals or groups without their consent.

          - Activity designed to ultimately remove our freedoms/rights.

          - Activity that would terminate individuals groups without their consent.

          This is further complicated in context by the fact that at some point we may have caused animals to be intelligent and therefore ethically should we

          • - Activity that could potentially lead to our end as a race. -> Everything we do in science has the potential to exterminate us. - Activity that increases the suffering of individuals or groups without their consent. -> I would agree with you with this one, but this is not the issue here, the modification are done on animals not humans. - Activity designed to ultimately remove our freedoms/rights. -> Again not relevant - Activity that would terminate individuals groups without their consent. ->
          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            This is further complicated in context by the fact that at some point we may have caused animals to be intelligent and therefore ethically should we not afford them the same rights/freedoms as us? And prevent abuse on them too?

            Heinlein pondered this [willmorgan.org] in 1947 (the link is to the full text of Jerry Was A Man). And what was that line from Star Trek IV? Something along the lines of "my compassion for someone doesn't depend on how intelligent they are".

            I explored this in some of my own fiction posted here at slas

        • i'm sorry for posting an almost identical reply, i had not seen yours.

      • Some risk analysis committee composed of emeritus engineers, scientist and doctors would be a better alternative and keep the soft sciences major out of there.

        • I agree, to a point. But don't you think society as a whole has a role? You may not agree with them, but your committee makes decisions that will affect them..

          • That is what regulation by democratic government are for. If the populace want to have something ban, let them do it. What I oppose is the artificial slowing down of research by incompetent ethic committee that don't even know the problem domain.

            • If the populace want to have something ban, let them do it.

              So the majority just gets to trample the minority? That's just as bad as these stupid ethics committees running the show.

      • what is abuse? its just wherever we decide to draw the line, right? lets decide to draw NO LINE. voila! no abuse!

    • Ethics is an important part of Science. And should be considered whenever you do an experiment. But ethics are rarely if ever black and white. But something that needs to be weighed.
      Do you jump to animal testing before you sit down and do the math and run simulations?
      Do you do a psychological study without having an educated hypothesis what will happen? If it doesn't happen when should you terminate so you can re-evaluate?

      I am not saying we should allow all the nuts go out and say this is evil because God

      • Ethics is an important part of Science.

        it shouldn't be.

        And should be considered whenever you do an experiment.

        i disagree. scientific research should be done for no reason other than curiosity. no other consideration should come into the picture.

        Do you jump to animal testing before you sit down and do the math and run simulations?

        yes, no substitute to real experiments.

        • Ethics is an important part of Science.

          it shouldn't be.

          And should be considered whenever you do an experiment.

          i disagree. scientific research should be done for no reason other than curiosity. no other consideration should come into the picture.

          Do you jump to animal testing before you sit down and do the math and run simulations?

          yes, no substitute to real experiments.

          I'm sure that Jews and other "undesirables" in Nazi Germany would agree wholeheartedly.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      So you submit that ethics are unethical? You would go back to things like Tuskegee syphilis experiment [rbs2.com], INjecting people with cancer cells [rbs2.com], or any of the other myriad horrors done in the name of science?

      Here's an idea -- how about we use you as an experimental subject? I'm sure we can think of some horribly unethical things we could do to you.

      • The risk analysis committee that I have proposed would probably have rejected the first one and accepted the second.

        Also, if I am terminally ill use me as a experimental subject, I won't care at all, I will be proud.

    • this. i say go ahead, do whatever the fuck you want. clone humans, create human-hippo hybrids, do any fucking thing. unless the genes of a creature are >50% human, no human rights need apply. all this tiptoeing is harming science.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      The ethics committee says, "Do not burn ethics committee." Perhaps you should try taunting them instead.

  • Pretty soon we're going to have Golden Retrievers with human-level intelligence running around being chased by vicious kill beasts. Who would have thought Dean Koontz could be so prophetic?

    • I suggest you read The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. Much better, and much older.
      • Re:Watchers? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:07AM (#36845314)
        Yes, let's scare more people with a bunch of fictional nonsense intended to play on people's fears and fool them into believing that fear response is the same as morality.

        H.G. Wells was a great author, but that does not qualify him to be a credible source of perspective on the ethics of genetic research, especially when his implicit goal was to be salacious enough to sell books, not to have the most honest and balanced possible view.
    • I'm fairly sure that most of the work being done on closing the Golden retriever/human intelligence gap is being done quite voluntarily on the human side...
    • That's completely ridicuSQUIRREL!

  • Safe way to the end of humanity as we know it. Was not worth too much anyway, so we are excited to look forward to a new category of first class world leadership.

    CC.

  • Oh noes... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by virgnarus (1949790) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:44AM (#36845012)
    A furry's wet dream... *shudder*
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:44AM (#36845014)

    Among experimentation that might spark concern are those where human brain cells might change animal brains, those that could lead to the fertilization of human eggs in animals and any modifications of animals that might create attributes considered uniquely human, like facial features, skin or speech.

    They reached this conclusion after much consideration, i.e. watching a preview of Rise of the Planet of the Apes: In the Beginning [wikipedia.org]

  • Reminds me of this:

    http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/sciencetech/stalins-deranged-vision-human-ape-super-race/1257 [environmen...affiti.com]

    Saw it on History Channel a few years back. Didn't know there was active research going on in mixing human DNA with brains.

    Isn't this story a coincidence when the move Rise of the Planet of the Apes is about to come out?? Pretty scary

  • by snookerhog (1835110) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:49AM (#36845082)
    eat your heart out Seth Brundle
  • Anything that leads to giant hybrid super-soldiers who have poignant and heartbreaking back stories while providing insightful and challenging commentary on contemporary social and transgenic issues with cute girls is A-OK by me.

    www.hip-flask.com

    No one expects the Elephantman Inquisition!

    • Sorry, that should be www.hipflask.com. I was close.

    • I think the drain on the supply of cute girls is already excessive, so adding giant hybrid super-soldiers who have poignant and heartbreaking back stories to the gene pool would only serve to further dilute my chances. No thanks!
  • FFS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:51AM (#36845110) Journal
    Do we have to include the ghastly emotive rot among the potentially legitimate concerns?

    Zoonotic diseases are certainly a real issue(though we've caught plenty just through good, old-fashioned, living in close proximity), and any techniques that would hypothetically involve the production of excessively human central nervous systems in laboratory animals might get ethically dodgy; but are "skin" and "facial features" really 'uniquely human' attributes that squick us out so much we just can't stand it? The idea that having a cartilage-and-soft-tissue structure that looks kind of human, rather than having a differently shaped one, is somehow an 'ethical' problem, rather than pure squeamishness, is just emotive rot.

    "The effect of custom, in preventing any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on one another, is all the more complete because the subject is one on which it is not generally considered necessary that reasons should be given, either by one person to others, or by each to himself. People are accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on subjects of this nature, are better than reasons, and render reasons unnecessary." -J.S. Mill
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      any techniques that would hypothetically involve the production of excessively human central nervous systems in laboratory animals might get ethically dodgy; but are "skin" and "facial features" really 'uniquely human' attributes that squick us out so much we just can't stand it? The idea that having a cartilage-and-soft-tissue structure that looks kind of human, rather than having a differently shaped one, is somehow an 'ethical' problem, rather than pure squeamishness, is just emotive rot.

      What about a Lucy Lu clone body, but with a dog/chimp hybrid brain tweaked to find basement dwellers attractive? Is it a pet or a slave?

      • Depends on the (no doubt messy) details of the brain. We seem to be pretty clearly comfortable with dogs as pets(and, frankly, outside of abusive situations, dogs seem pretty enthusiastic as well), and the human body(while pretty creepy) wouldn't be an ethically salient detail. Chimps seem to be rather smarter than dogs, and not quite so gung-ho about their human overlords, so a fair percentage of the likely use of such an organism could get troubling.

        My point is not that there are no ethically difficult
  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:52AM (#36845120) Homepage

    If making catgirls becomes illegal in Britain, we'll just make them in Japan. That would be disastrous. The Japanese are already years ahead of us in catgirl technology. [fastcodesign.com] We cannot afford a greater catgirl gap.

  • ...any modifications of animals that might create attributes considered uniquely human, like facial features, skin or speech.

    Wait...what?

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:54AM (#36845150)

    So we mix some code together and it's what? Not what nature intended? Who give a rat's patoot? Are we playing [insert favorite diety here]? Again, so what?

    I'm just having some trouble with the ethical implications. WHAT ethical implications? How is a hybrid any more good or evil than a naturally occurring organism? Help me out here guys, and no offense, but if you can't make an argument without reference to diefic entity nonsense, I'm not interested (unless of course, it's really, really funny).

    • Re:And so what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Xest (935314) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:09AM (#36845350)

      The problem is that species have evolved with what they have over time, so that problematic and crippling mutations are rapidly selected out.

      If you start creating hybrids, you create traits for which a species has not evolved, and as such those traits may have massively debilitating effects on the creature.

      Effectively, when we've long learnt that sometimes the best thing to do for an animal that is suffering, is to put it down, because it's more ethical than letting it suffer, then is it not ethically wrong to create creatures that will suffer with the intention of keeping them alive for experiments?

      Would it be fair to manipulate a human embryo to make it grow up with skin cancer all over it's body to examine skin cancer? is it fair to do it to an animal?

      I'll admit I side with the activists here, I think it is cruel and quite horrible, however, I'm also not sure that if we want to advance science that there's any alternative, and that leaves us at a disturbing crossroads- is the advancement of science worth ignoring ethical concerns? If it is in this case then where does it stop, where is the line drawn at which point it is not worth it? or do we carry on until we really do have mad scientists like in the movies!

      • Re:And so what? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:29AM (#36845632)
        Do you know what has to happen before nature can 'rapidly select out' bad mutations? They have to exist first. We are a part of nature, produced by natural processes, and I would argue that making mutated things with a purpose is better than other natural mutations that are mere accidents of reproduction. "Bad" mutations are going to happen anyway, they might as well at least be useful.

        All of this requires perspective. Tests done on animals that were both fatal and brutal have in the end saved millions of lives. I would gladly personally torture an animal or a dozen to death if it would save a million human lives, and that is a natural instinct. It's what's put us where we are in the first place. Animals that are vicious tend to survive better in a universe that doesn't care.
    • Are we playing [insert favorite diety here]? Again, so what?

      Agreed. Man was created in God's image according to some major religions. As I understand it, and as J.R.R. Tolkien understood it, this includes the capacity to create, and sub-creation of works that echo God's creation is one way that mortals honor God.

    • by smolloy (1250188)

      One issue could be the question of the rights of the hybrid. For example, humans have many rights that cows don't, but what about a cow with a human central nervous system?

      Or other primates with bits and pieces of human "code" in their brains? If we say that this animal isn't human, and therefore only deserving of the rights normally given to other primates even though it shows clear signs of human intelligence, wouldn't that somehow be wrong? But on the other hand, should they have full human rights, a

    • Someone else points out this could increase the spread of disease from animals to humans for a start. Additionally how ethical is it to create something potentially intelligent, and then have it suffer in a lab all its life?

      These things are not black and white. Even within religious circles. What we (regardless of belief system) need to start looking at is what consequences do our actions have. If you choose to call it "bad", "evil", "increasing suffering" or even "threatening our continued survival as a s

    • exactly my point. there is not ethics, people! just science, and discovery! imagine what we'd have accomplished by now if not for this squeamish paranoia!

  • I suspect we'll see a bunch of news stories concerning the topic of that movie.
  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday July 22, 2011 @09:57AM (#36845186)
    Pass laws that any creature with human DNA is human and has the same rights as any other human. Have the law make those who create such creatures be financially responsible for them until such time as they can be demonstrated to be able to care for themselves.
    • by cnettel (836611) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:06AM (#36845298)
      And suddenly you have a whole different bag of problems. Even just sequencing genomes have frequently been done by putting huge parts of human DNA into yeast or other hosts as a method for amplification and storage. Are the yeast cells human? No. Is a mouse with a single human gene (maybe a disease allele) human? No, and your suggestion would seriously hamper research. Is a bacterium with a human or rather human-derived insulin gene human? No.

      On the other hand, is there a problem if one would create e.g. the equivalent of a geep (a sheep-goat chimera, really two distinctive cell lines constituting different parts of the same body) from chimp and human lines? I would definitely think so. The tipping point is not too clear, and that's really the problem here. "Any creature with human DNA" is far too broad, so what criterion should we use.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:15AM (#36845418) Journal
      I'm afraid that I have some bad news for you: Even non-biologists might end up making some pretty massive child-support payments(and having to put up with some fairly nasty organisms) [nature.com].

      While horizontal gene transfer, in nature, doesn't seem to be as common in large eukaryotes as it is in bacteria, there are trillions and trillions of viruses out there, and sometimes they are sloppy. You definitely contain nontrivial amounts of their DNA, some of them might have acquired a few little bits of you...
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So I can create an army of slugs with voting rights just by mixing in some human DNA? If I use dogs instead can we count in "dog years" for reaching voting age?

      • If your human child can't communicate at all, he can't vote. Same for your army of slug children.

        So let's create an army of dog-children. Unfortunately, what if they don't vote as you tell them to. That, and if your opponent releases a squirrel at the voting precinct, would foil your evil plans.
    • It's that easy, is it?

      Giving human rights to constructs that have some human DNA would needlessly complicate a whole slew of matters. It also doesn't resolve things as clearly as you think it might: e.g. comatose or terminal humans certainly have human DNA, yet there is lively debate about how far their rights extend and whether we should keep them alive at all costs or let them die. Unborn embryo and fetuses have human DNA; and again society hasn't decided how many human rights they ought to have. A sev
    • For better or worse, research will simply take place in whatever jurisdiction doesn't pass those laws.

      The dotted line we draw around humanity is, ultimately, an arbitrary choice. There was a time not long ago where the definition of "person" excluded whole races and whole genders. And even though we have a person good grasp of how far to extend the shield of our empathy and citizenship, there are still people pushing the boundary further (animal welfare, the great ape project, etc).

      Chimeras and geneticall

    • That would grant excessive political power to zoofiles.

    • Pass laws that any creature with human DNA is human and has the same rights as any other human. Have the law make those who create such creatures be financially responsible for them until such time as they can be demonstrated to be able to care for themselves.

      This would never pass as we can't even get people to treat those that have 100% human DNA as human (see abortion issue).

    • by adamchou (993073)
      GREAT IDEA! It will be so much easier to get on welfare breeding man-dogs than making actual humans. I'm going to become a welfare millionaire.
    • by glwtta (532858)
      Pass laws that any creature with human DNA is human and has the same rights as any other human.

      So mice with, say, humanized breast tissue used as tumor models have the same rights as humans?

      Yeah, makes perfect sense.
    • What about using animals to grow human organs? That's one of the main reasons to do any of this and it would be precluded by your suggestion.
  • As long as (Score:5, Funny)

    by boristdog (133725) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:00AM (#36845234)

    As long as I can get a cat that will tell me exactly what it wants instead of me having to figure it out, I'm good.

    Then they can apply that gene to women.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grimmjeeper (2301232)

      As long as I can get a cat that will tell me exactly what it wants instead of me having to figure it out, I'm good.

      Then they can apply that gene to women.

      That's easy. But there's one fatal flaw to this idea. In order to give women the ability to just tell people what they want, you have to insert a Y chromosome. Trouble is, that turns them into a man.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      Given that this is /., I'm guessing what those women would tell you they want is "Not you."
    • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday July 22, 2011 @10:33AM (#36845690)
      It's fairly obvious what cats want. They want their servants to understand their needs and fulfill their wishes before they have realised what they want, themselves. If you're not doing this, the fault is yours, not theirs. Maybe you're mixed up about who is in charge in that relationship?
  • ... a prehensile tail. To hold my soldering iron while I'm trying to tack down some of these blasted 0.5 mm pitch SMDs.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Wouldn't forehead tentacles give you better control and visibility?

      What? They said sticking human DNA in animals! They never said anything about sticking octopus DNA in your forehead!

  • From the last line of the article: "it’s a human thing to have a memory.”

    Memory is not the real issue ... the real issue is language. Yes, dolphins, whales, birds, etc. can communicate, but not with an infinitely rich grammar. Many anthropologists (and, not surprisingly, linguists) believe that language is key to understanding the uniqueness of the human mind. To me, that's what makes brain cell implantation freaky.

    Surely one cell is not too controversial. Two... maybe a little. But o
    • Actually we don't understand dolphin or whale communication sufficiently yet to say how it compares to human language. As uncomfortable as it may be, early research suggests that it could be equivalent.

      As for birds, parrots and myna birds can already mimic human speech. They might not understand grammar as you say, but they can say "stop" just as surely as a hypothetical parahuman rat could.
  • I was thinking a nice thick coat like a leopard or a tiger. With fluffy ankles. Just no rasp like tongue - I can brush it.. It would be nice to be a big kitty cat.
  • by flink (18449) on Friday July 22, 2011 @11:14AM (#36846266)

    God-schmod. I want my monkey man!

  • That way we can a link that can transfer diseases from other species to us. The surviving humans would be nearly invulnerable,

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