2/21/10

How long until pigs fly?

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The day when pigs fly might not be as far ahead of us as the day when humans first flew is behind us. The real question might be, will humans create a flying pig or will pigs create their own method of flight.

The following are realities:

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells.

In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies.

Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy

The Mouse Transplant Experiments

As part of the research leading to the isolation of human brain stem cells, Weissman, Uchida and other colleagues at the firm StemCells Inc. began transplanting human brain stem cells into the brains of SCID mice with normal murine brains. (SCID mice were again used to avoid an immune system attack on the human cells.) The human brain stem cells were placed in a brain structure called the lateral ventricle, which, in mice, connects to their brains’ quite large olfactory bulbs. Weissman’s group was able to show that the human neuronal stem cells engrafted in a brain stem cell niche called the subventricular zone, near the injections. Those cells also migrated to a second niche, the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. In these niches the human cells divided and many of them migrated toward the olfactory bulb (Tamaki et al. 2002; Uchida et al. 2000). Samples of the brains of these mice showed that the human neurons had survived and had connected to the mouse brain.
Thinking About the Human Neuron Mouse


The last quote is from a paper discussing the ethics of chimera research and how it should be regulated. I would have thought the time to regulate would have been before the research began. I don't think you can unbite this apple. I wonder if I would if I could.

I wonder what will happen to animals with human brains? How will they be treated? Will any have a human level of intelligence and consciousness? How will we know? What happens to humans if they one day lose their status as the smartest animal on the planet?

When I started doing research on genetics to find a somewhat plausible premise to build my Tiger's Tale therianthrope characters around, I did not expect to discover human animal chimera already exist. A portion of my fiction had already become reality.

I suppose I was still trying to process how I feel about the idea as I wrote the story. At one point a female character is imprisoned in tiger form, her human awareness intact. It was done for her own good and without consent. What she endures could save her race from extinction. These are not things she knows or understands. It was interesting to look at the struggle in each character's mind as beings who were both human and animal struggled with their feelings about the ethics of the  chimera research.

I don't know how objective I can be about this idea. I'm not picking a side. I'm asking questions. I'm asking you to ask questions. As I interpret the discussions I've read, some of the researchers feel that if you leave human tissue out of the animal brain, there is no ethical problem. Others feel a small percentage of the brain can be human without conflict. Still others worry that you elevate the moral status (elevate the moral status???)of the research subject by inserting human tissue into the brain. What percent human does an animal have to be to acquire the rights and status of a human. If you have a human body but animal brain, you're not human? If you have a goat body and human brain you are? Many of these researchers resist the idea that ethics are a concern here, say that the conflict arises out of our inappropriate attribution of human emotions to animals. They maintain this research is necessary to cure disease and end suffering. They insist idea of producing an animal who can think and experience the world at a human level of consciousness through this type of experimentation is about as likely as tigers that can turn themselves into people, or as likely pigs flying. Maybe.

Maybe.

This used to be the stuff of imagination:
For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?— Vincent van Gogh, 1889.
Space Quotations: Seeing The Future in Space quotes

In van Gogh's time, they would have said that's crazy.  In our time, space exploration has progressed to the point that most of us agree traveling to the stars will be a given in the not too distant future.

As to pigs flying...what do you think?


This was written in repsonse to the Sunday Scribblings Prompt: When Pigs Fly. Click here to see what other Sunday Scribblers wrote.

If you'd like to read an excerpt from my novel, The Tiger's Tale, you can find it here. The release date for The Tiger's Tale is March 12th, and you will be able to purchase a copy here.

3 comments:

  1. I believe the answer to your question of 'When will pigs fly?', is Sunday, 02 May 2010 at 0630 hours.

    My other response to your research is- Wow! I had no idea. Does this mean that you have to change your genre to science fiction? Or to contemporary fiction?

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  2. Realistically the answer to the 'when' is clearly not soon, despite your first respondent, David's confidence.

    However your research into genetic experimentation is a worry as there is always a concern that initial good intent for possible future medical use may indeed be abused to have "flying pig armored battalions" or worse aimed at us or some other specific group in the world for political purposes.

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  3. wow, scary stuff. you think this stuff is nothing but fantasy but in this crazy world, who knows?

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.