Scientists Mixing Human and Animal Embryos

on April 5, 2008

The (London) Times: “We Have Created Human-Animal Embryos Already, Say British Team” It’s no April Fools’ joke: British scientists have created embryos that combine human and bovine elements.

A team at Newcastle University added human DNA to empty cow eggs, ostensibly as part of the effort to produce “powerful stem-cell models for investigating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and for developing new drugs.”

The DNA in the embryos was overwhelmingly human.

Known properly as “cytoplasmic hybrids” (or “cybrids”), the DNA in the embryos was overwhelmingly human, yet the human DNA was telling a cow cell how to develop. The situation might be very roughly likened to placing a tractor motor in an automobile, or installing a computer operating system in a microwave.

Confirming the unnaturalness of the project, the cybrids lived only three days, though one of the eggs divided enough to yield 32 cells. The scientists reportedly want to grow the embryos for six days, then extract embryonic stem cells for research. Eventually, the goal is to put the DNA of patients with genetic diseases into cybrids to “be used as models of those diseases to provide insights into their progress and to test new treatments.” British law makes it illegal to culture cybrids for more than two weeks or to implant them in a woman or animal, though the very wording of the restriction sends shivers up one’s spine.

Motivating the use of animal eggs is a shortage of human eggs, due to the “ethical difficulties” in collecting human eggs for research and the small risk to women who donate eggs. One wonders why the euphemistic “ethical difficulties” are ignored in the case of the cybrids, however.

Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brian labeled the work as “experiments of Frankenstein proportion,” and we agree with the characterization. While we are not opposed to medical research to fight disease, there is a definite line one must draw in determining what research is ethical. The destruction of embryos, whether completely human or “partially” human (again, the idea seems frightening) is antibiblical and represents a debasing of the value of life and respect for the unborn. Furthermore, promising stem cell research is being conducted that does not use or destroy embryos. The cybrid initiative seems not only immoral, but also unnecessary.

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