Monday, March 26, 2007

Meet The 'Shuman'

Genetically Modified Sheep Is 15% Human

In ancient Greek mythology they were called 'chimera', animals made up of parts of other animals, and sometimes humans, that occasionally helped great warriors and heros on their quests, but more often featured as monsters, and visions of a nightmare world.

But chimera are mythology no more.

From the UK Daily Mail :
Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer.

Professor Esmail Zanjani, of the University of Nevada, has spent seven years and £5million perfecting the technique, which involves injecting adult human cells into a sheep's foetus.

He has already created a sheep liver which has a large proportion of human cells and eventually hopes to precisely match a sheep to a transplant patient, using their own stem cells to create their own flock of sheep.

The process would involve extracting stem cells from the donor's bone marrow and injecting them into the peritoneum of a sheep's foetus. When the lamb is born, two months later, it would have a liver, heart, lungs and brain that are partly human and available for transplant.

There is certainly a massive worldwide market for such organs. In the UK, thousands die each year for want of replacement organs when their own have become too damaged or old to continue functioning efficiently :

At present 7,168 patients are waiting for an organ transplant in Britain alone, and two thirds of them are expected to die before an organ becomes available.

Scientists know full well the controversy they face trying to move the creation of chimera to grow organs into full production.

...the development is likely to revive criticisms about scientists playing God, with the possibility of silent viruses, which are harmless in animals, being introduced into the human race.

Dr Patrick Dixon, an international lecturer on biological trends, warned: "Many silent viruses could create a biological nightmare in humans. Mutant animal viruses are a real threat, as we have seen with HIV."

The full-blown nightmare scenario? Animal rights activists are afraid of 'cellular fusion' where a human-animal hybrid would be born combining the features man and sheep.


One day, human rights groups and animal rights groups may need to combine their resources to fight for the rights of 'shuman'.

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