Dear Science…

Ahhh ok we thought we had seen it all, but no ladies and gentlemen the things of science fiction movies are becoming more and more real. We’ve got lasers, clones, electric cars, spaceships and several other things that have become reality from our favourite sci-fi shows and books. But what could get our goat so much that it would make this weeks blog? Read on if you dare but don’t be surprised if you start to question a few things afterwards like we are. We’ve always tried to deliver the hard hitting news with facts and figures as well as a little humor but there are just some things that even we can’t spin and this has seriously got to be one of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to another week of A Mind of Its Own. Throughout history we’ve had some innovative breakthroughs that have allowed society to grow, have allowed us to prosper, have brought us into the 21st century. They’ve allowed us to explore, to question, to wonder. Human ingenuity has allowed us to invent, create, inspire and to even destroy. We’ve climbed to the top of the evolutionary food chain and tried to claw our way even further. But there is one nationality that has pushed the boundaries, time and time again both socially, scientifically, culturally. They’ve aligned themselves on the wrong side of history from time to time again but they have always figured quite heavily in the academic and technology industries.

As some of you know a lot of the team that write this here blog work for a Japanese company and have done so for quite some time now. So it’s no surprise to us when the Japanese come up in Science and Technology news. We’ve seen a lot of the products released from Japan and a lot of it is cutting edge. They are building the technology and products of tomorrow. Some of our favourite brands come from the island nation. Mitsubishi, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Subaru, Mazda, Yamaha, Sony, Toshiba, Nintendo, Seiko, Casio, Fujifilm, Olympus and Canon just to name a few. All of these brands at one time or another are releasing products that are new, innovative and at the bleeding edge. It’s what the Japanese do, they sink Millions upon millions of dollars into research and development (R&D).

So when we read that the Japanese Government had approved the first Human-Animal hybrid research to be conducted we were a little taken back. Our minds immediately went on a journey of all the human/animal hybrids we could come up with. From Minotaur to mermaids to rat boys the possibilities are endless. We even went as far to wonder whether we could finally see Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s vision of ManBearPig finally realized. Whilst our thoughts were somewhat adolescent in creating fanciful hybrids the application and ethics in hybrids is somewhat a little troubling should the ability and technology fall into the wrong hands, and when its the country who came up with Godzilla doing the research questions begin to be asked.

Have we got your attention yet? Fingers flew over the keyboard and hit up google in order to explore, research and find out more behind the intentions of the research teams involved in creating the first “approved” human-animal hybrid. Notice how we said first approved? Yeah there have no doubt been several illegal experiments conducted over the years by mad scientists in secret laboratories around the world. How else do you come up with biological weapons. Plus the Yanky doodles have been doing a similar experiment to the Japanese for years they just stop at some imaginary ethical line apparently.

Yeah, yeah, yeah there is a basement in Area 51 with all sorts of Hybrids running around maiming each other. So once we’d settled down from fanciful thoughts about exotic human-animal hybrids and actually read an article or two we began to see the benefits of this type of research. Whilst the ethics behind it all and the application of creating human-hybrid animals is a little scary the research is designed to get human cells to grow inside an animal which according to all the articles and journals we read isn’t an easy thing to do. So what is it all in Layman’s terms you ask and why? Good bloody questions because we needed to and wanted to know the answers ourselves. What’s got the scientific community in a flap about these experiments and the extent of them, well let’s enter a scientific journey together in order to find out the who, what, where and why.

Stem Cell research has been controversial since the early studies in 1981 where scientists discovered ways to derive embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos. This early study led to the development in 1998 of the method in which to derive human stem cells and grow cells in laboratories. Fast forward 21 years and Japan has granted approval for Stem cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi to legally conduct trials to not only transplant hybrid embryos into surrogate animals, but also to bring them to term. In previous experiments conducted around the world they had never bought any research to full term. By this they had never allowed the stem cells to fully grow within the animal they had been transported into and “come to term”..

The lead stem cell researcher at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University, Nakauchi has gone from country to country, chasing the dream of one day growing customized human organs in animals like sheep or pigs. With more than 116,000 patients on the transplant waiting list in the United States alone, Nakauchi hopes his idea can transform lives.The ultimate goal is still a long way off, but the next step in his research has at last been given the green light by ministry officials in Japan. As the first researcher to receive government approval since the 2014 ban, Nakauchi plans on taking things slowly so that public understanding and trust can catch up. Trust that he doesn’t create potential monster hybrids that will take over the world. The possibility of ManBearpig is a real thing by the looks of it.

“We don’t expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point,” Nakauchi was quoted saying. So what is the experiment exactly you ask? The experiments will start by injecting human induced pluripotent stem cells (master cells according to Google) into rat and mice embryos, all of which have been genetically manipulated so that they cannot make pancreases. The goal is for the rodent embryo to use human cells to build itself a pancreas. For two years, the team plans on watching these rodents develop and grow. They will carefully monitor their organs and brains in the process. Only then will the researchers ask for approval to do the same with pigs.

While human-animal embryos have been created in the past – such as pig-human embryos and sheep-human embryos – they’ve never been allowed to develop to term before. One of the biggest fears with this type of research centers on exactly where these human stem cells actually go in an animal, and what type of cells they could develop into, once they are injected. While Nakauchi and his team are trying to target this treatment to just the pancreas, if they detect more than 30 percent of the rodent brains are human, they will suspend the experiment. This is part of the government’s conditions to prevent a “humanised” animal from ever coming into existence.

Nakauchi, however, doesn’t think this is going to happen. Last year, he and his colleagues at Stanford successfully made the first human-sheep embryo, and although it was destroyed after just 28 days, the hybrid contained no organs and very few human cells – only about one in 10,000 or less. So there are some caveats on the research and what can be done but the fear from the public and scientific community is still real. The goal of the research is to create viable human organs that can be transplanted. Taking a crystal ball and looking into the future should this research actually pan out would we see the production of organ farms with sheep and pigs running around growing human organs inside of them for transplant recipients? The possibilities are endless and while the experiment is exciting from that aspect, what are the ethical issues behind it all?

It’s a good thing we aren’t scientists there are way too many words to digest and we’ve been hitting Google a lot to understand this whole animal-human hybrid scenario. What do you get when you have a single organism derived from two sets of DNA? A Chimera apparently, and the first thing that came to mind was Mission Impossible 2 where Tom Cruise is running around fucking shit up in Syndey trying to find and destroy a deadly virus called “Chimera” that is created from two different viruses and is self replicating. Then there is the Chimera from Greek mythology that’s part lion, part goat and has a snake as a tail. A true hybrid. In this case it’s closer to the second one and hopefully something that we won’t be seeing anytime soon. However the more we researched, the more we realised that Chimeras can occur naturally in humans. What the Fork? Was our first response as well but when a twin absorbs its twin it naturally creates a Chimera.

So when we inject stem cells into embryos and let them grow, we are in a sense creating Chimeras and that’s not natural according to everything we have read on the internet and if it’s on the internet it has to be true, right?.The main ethical issues are the risks of consciousness and of human features in the chimeric animal due to a high contribution of human cells to the brain, in the first case, or for instance to limbs, in the second. Another critical point of concern is the production of human gametes (organisms reproductive cells), yeah we had to Google what it was ourselves, by such chimeric animals. Can you imagine a rat, pig or sheep that had human sperm or eggs? That would be forking weird but is a major concern within the scientific community when it comes to genetics and stem cell research. From what we can tell there are three main ethical issues with the production of human-animal chimeras.

Human-like external features

It can be argued that the injection of human genes and cells into animal embryos could have an effect on the physical aspect of the animal. In layman’s terms as a researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) put to us, on its appearance. The creation of human/animal chimeras can make the boundary between human beings and other living beings penetrable, inducing questions about human identity. These concerns are more obvious when it comes to a chimera whose physical attributes would let its chimeric quality start to appear. E.G a rat with human arms or organs. It is not only about the creature’s appearance, but also about its specific attributes, such as language.

Human gamete production

The Humanization of animals bearing human organs could result in the production of human gametes. Yep animals with human sperm that could mate with animals that aren’t genetically modified or hybrids. Human embryos could be created using such gametes. The worst-case scenario would be that a pig producing human sperm could accidentally mate with a sow or vice versa. Manbearpig is a real possibility. However, the possibility that the interaction between gametes of different species would result in a hybrid embryo is almost nonexistent, because the inter-species reproductive barrier is very strong. For instance, the injection of human sperm into a hamster egg (the “hamster test”, used to test the quality of human sperm cells) does not give rise to embryos capable of development. Even cross-breeding attempts between human and anthropoid apes failed when tested in the first part of the twentieth century. Keep in mind science has come a long way since then ladies and gents. In addition, this fear can easily be dissipated: sterilization of pigs bearing human organs would be sufficient to prevent their reproduction.

Alternatives to human organs in animals

In the absence of medical alternatives it is essential to justify the development of human organs in animals. However, the issue of organ shortage for the treatment of life-threatening conditions by organ transplantation could be solved by other means in the future. For instance, pig organs could be used. To prevent organ rejection, researchers are investigating the possibility of deleting the main pig genes responsible for organ rejection and breeding pigs in which all porcine endogenous retroviruses are inactivated. The importance of monitoring these developments is massive, because they might represent valid and more acceptable alternatives to the generation of inter-species chimeras.

So we’ll sit back and watch with bated breath as the Japanese create Human/Animal hybrids or Chimeras as they are better known throughout the scientific community and hope the creators of South Park weren’t predicting the future when they came up with their Manbearpig character. There are upsides and downsides for this type of experimentation but does one outweigh the other? In certain people’s eyes that is no doubt the case. With all things in life though knowledge is power, the more you educate yourself around this the more you will understand and be able to make a sound call on where you stand when it comes to Human/Animal hybrid experimentation.

It’s been a tough couple of months for Australia as we burn, homes have been lost, animals, people and much of our beautiful country is still on fire. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all those affected during this time of what we will call a crisis. The statistics alone lead us and many Australian’s to call for a better strategy for handling fire season that encompasses all of Australia not just state by state. Screw a surplus our current government are forecasting, get the women and men on the ground the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs properly and more importantly safely. We’ve provided links below to donate to those affected by the fires including our native animals.

So to a not so Happy New Year we welcome you all to a new decade, who knows whats install for each and every one of us but from the team here at A Mind Of Its Own wishes each and every one of you a cracker of a year even if we are off to a shaky start. Until next week when we launch our year in review we bid you a fond farewell and hope that that Japanese don’t make a Godzilla or Manbearpig. The world is already in enough chaos thanks to a little orange oompa loompa. Adios amigos…

https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/bushfire-crisis-how-can-i-donate-and-help/11839842

https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2019/12/31/how-you-can-help-bushfire-victims

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