Half and Half

3:54 pm Feb 18 - by Radu Lazar

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Humans have always envied the powers of animals that they themselves could not possess. This was one of the driving forces behind many of humanity’s great scientific advances. So far, humans have tried to mimic these unique animal characteristics by creating machines with the same functions. With new scientific progress, however, a new realm of opportunities has opened up. The desire to gain unnatural abilities has shifted focus from merely copying nature to the concept of human-animal hybrids, a subject controversial from its very conception.

One of the numerous controversial and ethically-dubious debates regarding these hybrids, also called chimeras, stems from the worldwide shortage of and search for organs available for transplant. Xenotransplantation, or the transplantation of living cells, tissues, or organs from one animal to another, has been considered as a potentially viable option in the search for transplant organs. With pigs and baboons as the most likely candidates, the harvesting of engineered organs from these animals could lead to a solution for this massive problem. However, these techniques are highly unethical, remain largely unproven, and lack the substantial study needed for a potential real-life application. Taking these ideas of merging animals with humans a step further, some scientists have changed their focus from transplants and tissue grafts to altering genomes.

In recent years, scientists have created chimeric cells by mixing genes from different animals, including humans, in order to produce various hormones or even cells for further research. The reasoning behind these experiments lies in the hope that, with the use of animal DNA, scientists may cure existing diseases. An even more radical idea is the thought of enhancing humans from an embryonic stage with animal DNA. Humans may be able to acquire desired animal characteristics by having part of an animal’s genome inserted into their very own cells, but this is still science fiction.

For now, those truly obsessed with inheriting animal characteristics must satisfy themselves with simply mimicking their looks. There exists a select group of people, such as the infamous “Catman,” willing to undergo extensive body alterations to look like their favorite animal. The Catman, a real life “chimera,” has undergone upper lip bifurcation, pointing of the ears, facial silicone implants, tooth filing, tattoos, and facial piercings serving as anchors for whiskers to resemble his favorite feline, the tiger.

Only time, the advancements of science and ethics will tell if human chimeras will ever exist.

Tagged with: human, animal, hybrid, xenotransplantation, catman

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