Jordan Ballor writes about the ethical and moral implications of creating genetic chimeras. Ballor comments on a recent New York Times editorial promoting chimera research, calling their thinking "scientific pragmatism" and criticizing the general lack of understanding of both human nature and athropology. "The creation of new kinds of chimeras, using manipulation at the cellular and sub-cellular level, raises the stakes considerably," writes Ballor about the level of public controversy involved with chimera research thus far. Pursuing further research without adhering to an objective set of moral and ethical guidelines could have a devastating effect on our humanity.
The National Academies of Science has issued a set of guidelines for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The guidelines also address the chimera phenomenon.
The guidelines open a path for experiments that create animals that contain some introduced human embyronic stem cells.
These hybrid part human, part animal creatures, called chimeras, would be “valuable in understanding the etiology and progression of human disease and in testing new drugs, and will be necessary in preclinical testing of human embryonic stem cells and their derivatives,” the guidelines committee said.
Chimeras might also be used to grow organs, such as livers, to transplant into humans.
Human embryonic stem cells should be introduced into nonhuman mammals “only under circumstances where no other experiment can provide the information needed,” the guidelines say.
The danger is experiments in which there is a possibility that human cells could contribute in a “major organized way” to the brain of an animal. These experiments “require strong scientific justification,” the committee warned.
Once again we can see that the overriding ethical principle is a scientific pragmatism. Almost no limit is viewed as absolutely impassable, as long as “no other experiment can provide the information needed.”
Hot on the trail of chimeras as a service to you, dear reader, I pass along this story about the offspring of a dolphin and a whale. Apparently these so-called “wholphins” have been found in the wild.
Wholphins, as whale-dolphin hybrids, are a less-famous form of chimera than more famous ligers (mules are the most famous). According to Napoleon Dynamite, a liger is “pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed. Bred for its skills in magic.”
Now as alluded to in a previous post, I’ve done a theological examination of the phenomena of animal/human chimeras. I conclude that these violate the dignity of human beings created as image-bearers of God, as well as the dignity of animals which share with us the “breath of life” (see Genesis 1:30).
With respect to such animal/animal chimeras, however, my inclination is to find that such hybrids, which can naturally occur without direct human genetic intervention, are not morally objectionable. But cases in which humans must manipulate and artificially produce such animals raise greater moral questions.
From Live Science, there are plans to create a pseudo-woolly mammoth from frozen DNA. The trick is to take the male sperm DNA from a woolly mammoth sample and the egg from its closest living relative, the elephant. “By repeating the procedure with offspring, a creature 88 percent mammoth could be produced within fifty years.”
Such a creature is technically a chimera, “an organism or tissue created from two or more different genetic sources.” This usage is related to the creature from Greek mythology, the Chimera, who had various and sundry body parts from different animals.
I’ve written a piece (yet to appear) on the recent attempts to create animal/human chimeras and the theological and ethical implications. But what would you call this woolly mammoth/elephant chimera? A mammophant? An elemmoth?
Update: Jonah Goldberg at NRO indirectly gives us a good suggestion: “Snuffleupagus”
Update #2: It’s settled. Apparently, according to Everything2.com, “When the male and female of both species can each be combined to form the hybrid, it is the name of the male that is used first.” So we have the name: “mammophant.” I think that the full scientific taxonomy should be mammophantus snuffleupagus, however. Also, there’s a dispute on the definition of chimeras, which Everything2.com contends involve “more of a Frankenstein-type process of gene splicing, cell modification, implantation, and embryo modification.” I find this to be a sub-category of chimera. Perhaps there should be a natural/artificial distinction among chimeras.
HT: The Corner