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It sounds right out of a science fiction novel, but it is something that has actually happened. Scientists have created a human-pig embryo for the first time ever. This is the first instance of a chimera – known as the cross-species beast that breathed fire in Greek mythology – we’ve now created something real. This is a massive breakthrough primarily because this research brings us one more step closer to making human organs from scratch.
But before we get to that, let’s first get back to the pig-man embryo first. For sure it sounds scary, but the big reason why that happened was researchers were looking into the future of organ transplants. They were also looking in particular for the implications this all would have for other areas in biological research and our health care. In short, this experiment and research was to get pigs to grow with human tissue inside of them. This, in turn, would revolutionize our current transplant system which has a large amount of demand and very little supply.
With all this said, let’s go into the other details to better explain this. First, what exactly is a chimera? Much like what we learned from Greek mythology, a chimera is basically one organism that comes from two or several different zygotes that are fused together. Think of it like two twins that are melded together into one at very early stages of child development. In instances of chimeras the twins could be human and pigs or other mammals as well.
Overall, these tests have been going on for some time. A decade ago we created a rat-mouse chimera. The challenging part has been combining human cells with larger mammals, which has been tough until this point.
So how was this all created? Well, the process is a complicated science. To put it simply the pig man was created by blending stem cells and doing some gene editing as well. In short, stem cells from the donor would be injected into the host species followed by the host’s genes being turned off and therefore unable to create whatever organs they were trying to grow. While all of this is happening the stem cells are attempting to become those organs. For example for the pig man, if scientists wanted to grow human lungs, they’d inject stem cells into the pig and shut down the genes of the pig so instead of pig lungs being made, the pig would create human lungs. The same can be done for other parts of the body as well.
While this is a massive breakthrough, this doesn’t mean that there a human-pig hybrid army tucked away in a secret lab. The science overall is still in development. This experiment that was released to the public was showing off that human cells can grow within a pig embryo which is a possible solution for on-demand pancreas and other organs.
All of that being said, there is a lot of concern revolving around this from advocates for animal rights and pro-life groups to the National Institutes of Health. Because of this growing concern, funding is slowly being cut off which makes it difficult for this research to continue.
At the end of the day, while this whole process is weird, the intentions are good. Researchers are looking for ways to improve human life. While pigs with the human genes are far from likely of developing human consciousness, they still provide good “guinea pigs” for testing new medicines and also for supplying organs that people are demanding for.
Do you think this is right? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!