In the UK, a research team at Newcastle University developed the first hybrid human and animal embryo, following changes in the law in 2006 that would allow them to create cross-species embryos. Why would they want to do such a thing? They say so they can study stem cells, come up with cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and grow new organs for people who need transplants.
They argue that human eggs are in short supply due to a lack of donors so they are justified in using eggs from cows instead.
The embryos being used for the stem cell research are called cybrid embryos. A cybrid embryo is an embryo that has been created from the egg of a cow that has had its entire internal DNA stripped so that all that remains is the outer shell. It is then fertilized with a human sperm. What results is an embryo that is 99.9% human and 0.1% animal.
Other types of human/animal embryo include chimera embryos, where a human embryo is injected with animal cells and human/animal hybrids, or where a human egg is fertilized by an animal sperm or a human sperm fertilizes an animal egg.
According to UK law, scientists are allowed to use both cybrid and chimera embryos in their research, but not hybrid embryos. Using hybrid embryos is banned.
They can also only keep the embryos for two weeks and after that, must destroy them.
The Newcastle team managed to make their cybrid embryos live for three days after fertilization. Professor John Burn, who led the team, said
“We now have preliminary data which looks promising but this is very much work in progress and the next step is to get the embryos to survive to around six days, when we can hopefully derive stem cells from them.”
A Society Devoid of Moral Conscience
As a member of the public and of humankind, I find this type of research objectionable on so many levels. At a basic, common sense level, nature dictates that humans and animals are separate species. If we were meant to inter-breed, for any purpose at all, we would evolved to procreate with animals. We haven’t, so any research involving cross fertilization is fundamentally against nature.