Frankengerbil Experiments: How Far is Too Far?
The animal experimentalists are at it again, this time with the crackpot scheme of pushing the boundaries on combining human and animal DNA even further. Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences is conducting a study to answer one simple question on the matter: How far is too far?
The study is expected to last a year or more, with the intention of placing clearer boundaries for scientists while seeing how much the general public is willing to accept of such meddling. If the recent past is any indication, most will not be overly thrilled by the prospect; especially environmental and religious groups. One example of this is the anger that erupted in the U.K. a couple years ago when scientists announced plans to create human embryos inside empty cow and rabbit eggs, for the purpose of stem cell research.
Professor Martin Bobrow of medical genetics at Cambridge University—and chair of a group studying the issue—asked, “do these constructs challenge our idea of what it is to be human? It is important that we consider these questions now so that appropriate boundaries are recognized and research is able to fulfill its potential.” He also adds, “there is a whole raft of new scientific techniques that will make it not only easier but also more important to be able to do these cross-species experiments”.
The mixing of human and animal DNA or other materials is not exactly a new science or procedure, but it doesn’t make it any less abominable. Past tests have included the creation of Rhesus Macaque Monkeys with the human version of the Huntingdon’s gene, as well as the more well known Vacanti mouse with the human ear growing out of its back—although that experiment used cow cells to make the ear shape.
The scientists’ reasoning for conducting all of these experiments should be no big surprise: it’s all for the sake of human medical research. They say the technology to combine more human material with animals is spreading like wildfire across the globe. Stem cell expert Robin Lovell-Badge says “it sounds yucky, but it may be well worth doing if it’s going to lead to a cure for something horrible”. Two types of experiments are currently being looked into: replacing an animal sequence with the human counterpart or altering animal genes by adding human DNA. “There are good reasons for doing this, but it may upset some people,” he adds.
I have said it many times before, and I will say it again: if they are so desperate to find ways to help humans, they need to conduct their experiments on willing human participants. Far too many animal experiments have provided unreliable results, so I can’t help but wonder why they keep pushing that field.
What’s more, humans are not exactly an endangered species or dying breed, though they are extremely responsible for the extinction of thousands of others. Rather than use these techniques to save a species that is not even threatened, why don’t they turn the tables for a change? A lot of animals are currently dying out at alarming rates due to diseases they can’t control or cure. How about injecting some frog DNA into humans to figure out how to help the frogs survive the fatal chytridiomycosis disease, or perhaps work with koala bear genes to help them fight against the Chlamydia that has drastically exterminated their numbers. These are animals that are actually in danger of becoming extinct if help is not provided—which makes all of this human-centered research seem a bit selfish and even cruel.
I have never supported any type of animal lab experiments, and I am not about to start now. Luckily, there are others who feel the same way. Director of Human Genetics Alert, David King, says “this is a classic example of science going too fast. If you cannot firmly say exactly what it is you’re creating, you should not do it”. The last thing this world needs is scientifically engineered frankenmice. If they want to do some good, they should work for or with the other species of the world, not against them.
By Heidi Marshall