6 Shocking Feats Of Human Genetic Engineering That Have Already Happened

The Risening via Flickr - Travis Miller
The Risening via Flickr – Travis Miller

The sci-fi concept of mix man with animal or animal with other animals has been around for as long as humans have existed. The Satyr, the centaur, the mermaid, all of these reflect a fascination with “what ifs” that, at the time, were purely in the realm of fantasy.

That has changed and most people aren’t even aware of it. Today it’s not only possible to grow an animal embryo with human DNA in it, it’s been done many times and it will continue to be done in a search for new treatments for human disease.

That’s all well and good and important but there’s also the very real fact that we’re creating hybrids of humans and animals and of animals and other animals right now, not in the future, now. Without judgement I present you with six cases.

1. The ManApe

The Caveman by Banksy via Flickr - Lord Jim
The Caveman by Banksy via Flickr – Lord Jim

This is a weird list but it’s important to start at the beginning. The ManApe does not exist so let me get that out of the way. However, in the early 1900s, one Soviet scientist by the name of Ilya Ivanovich wanted them to exist. They wanted it so much that they practiced artificial insemination of female apes (usually chimps) with human sperm. I mean, that’s gross, I know. It didn’t result in anything either but (possibly mad scientist) Ilya Ivanov was not to be deterred. In 1929 he got a bunch of women to agree to be, how to phrase this, receptacles for male orangutan sperm. He ended up not being able to follow through with the unholy union because his last orangutan died.

However, all this artificial insemination practice paid off. He literally perfected the process which, today, is used to breed horses.

So, that’s the start of all the later attempts to fiddle with human genes even though no one even knew what genes were in the early 1900s. We’ll leave aside John Brinkley’s attempt to get rid of virility by grafting goat testicles onto humans to cure impotence. Eventually we discovered the human genome and mapped it along with thousands of others.

Great, we can make ManApes now, right? No, not yet, but what we’ve gotten already is pretty incredible.

2. Human Organs Growing in Pigs

via Flickr - Lis S.
via Flickr – Lis S.

Last year, Japanese scientist Hiro Nakauchi announced his intentions to do exactly what the header states, grow human organs in pigs. Why would he want to do such a thing? Well to transplant them into humans which would, of course, kill the pig in the process. Additionally, the plan isn’t just to grow “human organs” but to grow organs specifically tailored to your DNA meaning the transplant process would be medically seamless with far less chance of your frail, organ seeking body rejecting it.

How long will this take to develop? Nakauchi says five years, maybe a bit more, which means this could start going into practice soon thereafter. Presumably this would create and insane kind of dystopian surgical unit/slaughterhouse hybrid facility where pigs had their human organs removed and were then butchered for meat and fed to the public, a kind of half Soylent Green sort of situation.

Given the cost of human organs on the black market (over $250,000 for a kidney) this stands to be a highly lucrative business.

3. Rabbit Human?

Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit via Wiki Commons
Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit via Wiki Commons

Ladies, you may feel you’ve already met one of these (harharhar) but you’re mistaken. As in example number one, there is no freakshow Mabbit that exists out in the world that you can go gawk and tremble at in existential despair. What does exist though is nearly as interesting and less, well, horrifying.

In 2003, Chinese scientists (who will do anything, it seems) fused human cells with rabbit eggs creating an embryo aka the thing that eventually turns into a fetus and then a baby. The embryo was allowed to develop, growing and dividing, creating more cells as embryos do and then their stem cells were extracted and the embryos were destroyed. So, they didn’t allow the embryo to develop until the end but this is an amazing feat. Frankly, the only thing preventing them from allowing it fully develop was the need for the stem cells and, maybe, ethics.

4. Pigs With Human Blood

via Flickr - Tambako the Jaguar
via Flickr – Tambako the Jaguar

Poor pigs, they are the walking labs of the science world. In 2004, Mayo Clinic scientists here in the U.S. injected pig fetuses with human DNA. What resulted was amazing. The human DNA intertwined with the pig DNA resulting in pigs with both human DNA and cells which contained both human and swine DNA all living together like a happy little family.

But, check this out, the timing of when the DNA is injected was of paramount importance here. Scientists have to wait until the pig fetus’s “body plan” has fully developed but before the immune system has. This makes sure the pig looks like a pig instead of a hybrid pig/human monstrosity and also ensures that the pig’s immune system doesn’t reject the human cells but instead develops with them.

Exactly how many pig humans did scientists have to go through before they go this timing right? Hopefully none.

These particular pig fetuses were carried to term, born, and lived just fine.

5. Goat Spiders

via DeviantArt - jazzykat99
via DeviantArt – jazzykat99

You may have heard that spider silk is the strongest substance in nature. Well, if you haven’t, it is. In fact, it’s five times stronger than steel of the same diameter and lighter. While, we’ve been able to forcibly extract spider silk from spiders for a while, it’s difficult to mass produce the stuff which is why University of Wyoming professors decided to make goats that can also spin webs, sort of.

What they did was incorporate the gene that produces a spider’s silk producing ability into a goat’s mammaries. This created goats that secrete the spider silk protein in their milk which scientists are then able to separate out. They’re able to literally milk spider silk from goats because of this genetic engineering.

And lest you think this happened recently, it didn’t. It happened five years ago.

6. Mice With Human Brains

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 4.03.01 PM
Too obvious? via YouTube

This one is stunning because it’s the only instance I’ve seen where the inclusion of human DNA into an animal resulted in a marked change in that animal.

Okay, so here’s what was done. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin destroyed part of the brains of a bunch of mice and then injected cells from a human embryo where the destroyed part was. The human cells thrived and the mice were able to navigate mazes again. But it gets more interesting.

At the same time, at the University of Rochester, scientists injected new born mice with “nascent human glial cells” (the cells that support neuron function in the brain) and found that the human glial cells totally replaced the mice glial cells. Even more amazing, this resulted in a smarter mouse.

So, there you have it. You can make mice smarter by adding human brain cells. In all honesty, I sort of wish they’d gone with human neuron cells just to see how smart it would be.

And that human curiosity is why we’ll eventually be awash in animal men ala Dr. Moreau’s Island. By the way, I left off the cow/human embryo that scientists created. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Ask me anything as long as it’s safe for all ages and just fantastically interesting.

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