Rise of the Planet of the Apes Becoming Mind-Blowing Reality
Part-human, part-monkey embryo created by scientists’ sparks outcry; genetic tinkering could lead to unforeseen consequences.
When science fiction becomes a reality, it’s usually a cause for celebration. The desktop computer, digital flip phones, landing a man on the moon, and the list of human accomplishments depicted in science fiction books, movies, and even comic books since the late 19th Century has been astounding.
Yet, no area of science fiction has been more controversial than genetic research and experimentation using human cells, much less in a combination of animal cells. The announcement that researchers have grown human stem cells in monkey embryos to better understand how the cells communicate is the kind of research that could lead to unforeseen consequences.
In the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a scientist in San Francisco experimented with a drug that he hopes will cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. After the scientists’ work is deemed a failure, he becomes the guardian of Caesar, an infant chimp exposed in-utero to Will’s drug. Caesar displays unusual intelligence, and the scientist decides to continue his experiments secretly. But as Caesar’s intellect and abilities grow, and accidental exposure of one man to the scientist’s experimental drug leads to 98% of humanity in the world dying as a result.
At the same time, Caesar aids his fellow chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans escape from the zoo he had been banished to by civilian authorities and exposes them to the scientists’ experimental drug. These unforeseen events lead to the virtual extinction of mankind and a planet dominated by apes.
Genetic experiments using animal and human DNA for many people is a bridge too far. They fear it could lead the way to “human-nonhuman” creatures and or the kind of apocalypse for humanity depicted in many science fiction storylines over the last 150 years. Consider the H.G. Wells classic The Island of Dr. Moreau written in 1896.
The controversial embryos were made at the Salk Institute in California and have been named monkey-human chimeras.
Human stem cells, known for becoming different types of cells, were injected into macaque embryos in a petri dish.
It’s only fair to assume the scientists doing this research have the best intentions. They reportedly hope their work could create organs for transplants and teach us more about human development and disease progression.
Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, the lead scientist in this Salk Institute research, was among the first scientists to produce a human-pig hybrid in 2017.
Professor Belmonte has been quoted during recent interviews as saying…
“These chimeric approaches could be really very useful for advancing biomedical research not just at the very earliest stage of life, but also the latest stage of life.”
According to Belmonte, the human and macaque monkey embryos were monitored for around 20 days and have since been destroyed.
Professor Belmonte and his team of scientists published their study results in the journal Cell. They wrote that they “survived and integrated with better relative efficiency than in the previous experiments in pig tissue.”
Belmonte and his team maintain that their work follows ethical guidelines, an assertion many other highly credentialed researchers disagree with.
According to an interview conducted by the BBC, Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, insists that the experiment…
“Opens Pandora’s box to human-nonhuman chimeras.”
Professor Savulescu said during his BBC interview:
“These embryos were destroyed at 20 days of development, but it is only a matter of time before human-nonhuman chimeras are successfully developed, perhaps as a source of organs for humans.
“That is one of the long-term goals of this research.”
The United Kingdom’s Mirror reports Dr. Anna Smajdor, an ethics specialist at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, as saying:
“This breakthrough reinforces an increasingly inescapable fact: biological categories are not fixed - they are fluid.
“This poses significant ethical and legal challenges.”
Human cells grown in monkey embryos spark ethical debate