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This was written for a class of ours:
What are chimeras?
In the scientific community, chimeras are creatures that are part animal and part human. There have also been occurrences of human and animal DNA being mixed with plant DNA. This means that person who had a heart-valve replacement received a pig’s heart would be a chimera (Mott, 1).
Another definition of the term “chimera” is two or more individuals sharing DNA and that would mean a mother or twins would be chimeras because a mother carries some DNA of her children and the twins each carry a genome or two of their brother or sister (Mott, 1).
The two famous chimeras:
There have been two chimeras that were famous enough to be made note of in two myths. The first chimera is the original animal after which chimeras get their name. The Chimera was originally part lion, part goat, and part serpent. The Chimera was killed by Bellerophon, who was riding upon Pegasus (Bulfinch, 895).
The most famous known human-animal Chimera was the Minotaur, son of Pasiphae and the white bull sent by Neptune. He fed off the bodies that Minos sent into the Labyrinth, where he was kept. He was killed by Theseus with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos (Bulfinch, 927).
How are chimeras made?
Chimeras are created when human stem cells are combined with another creature, usually the fetus of an animal. The first chimeras were created by Chinese scientists fused human cells with rabbit eggs (Mott, 1). Other examples of chimeras created with a mixture of human and animal DNA are sheep in Nevada that have hearts and livers that are mostly human, pigs with human blood, and mice that have human neuron cells (Weiss, 1).
An example of human-animal-plant DNA mixing is when human and mouse DNA was mixed with the DNA of a tobacco plant (Glenn, 1).
What are the benefits of making a chimera?
The benefits of a chimera are almost too numerous to count:
• Some cows have human DNA to help make insulin for people with diabetes.
• Pigs have mostly human heart valves so humans can have heart surgery.
• Pigs may be able to donate cells for people with Parkinson’s Disease.
• To help grow skin to cover burns and cuts so that the wounds can heal.
• Human-plant mixes may be able to be used to create edible vaccines.
• Goats had their genes infused with the genome to make spider silk and when they were milked, the milk had the protein to create spider silk. This was used to make bulletproof vests (Glenn, 1).
• The mostly human livers of sheep may be able to be used in transplants for humans in need of livers.
What are the arguments against making chimeras?
However many arguments there are for the creation of chimeras, there are as many reasons to not make a chimera:
• What if two animals that had human-animal DNA were to mate and a human was to be created from the mating? This is disputed by several scientists because another animal’s womb would not be able to sustain the embryo of a human says Ann McLaren, a biologist from the University of Cambridge (Weiss, 1).
• Animal viruses may be able to spread to humans. This may be proved when the blood cells of pig fused with the human blood cells that ran through its body, creating a hybrid of the two cells (Weiss, 1).
• Animals may be born with the brains of humans.
• If the animal was to show some form of human intelligence and speech, would the animal have the rights it would deserve since it would have human abilities? Michael J. Sandel, of Harvard, says that that will probably not be the case if such a creature was to surface (Weiss, 1).
• Chickens that have had a mixture of two types of DNA were creating complicated sounds that only quails made. This showed that that it is possible for behaviors to be transferred from species to species (Weiss, 1).
• There is no standard for how far a scientific institution can go in the making of a chimera.
• One argument from some scientists is that they are going against God’s law and therefore the experimentation should be stopped.
• Can a new disease be created that there is not a cure for (Glenn, 1)?
What happens when a chimera is made?
Most of the chimeras created are only allowed to develop for a few days before being destroyed so that they are able to see how the creature is developing and if it is possible for it to develop to adulthood. This usually occurs with the chimeras that have human neuron cells implanted in them.
Can the myths of chimeras be denied?
Since humans are creating chimeras and there are so many different aspects from the past that involve human-animal mixing, the myths should not be put into the fiction box until stories are further studied and more research is done in the area of where the stories take place.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology, 1979. Crown Publishers.
Glenn, Linda MacDonald. Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenetics. <http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/glenn.html>
Mott, Maryann. “Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy”, National Geographic,
Rennie, John. “Human-Animal Chimeras”, Scientific American.
Weiss, Rick. “Of Mice, Men and In-Between”, Washington Post.
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