Chimeras: Scientists Create Half-Man, Half-Animal Creatures

The Chimera originates in Greek mythology as a being with the body parts of multiple creatures. One such example is that of a creature which possesses the body of a goat, the tail of a serpent, and the head of a lion, though there are numerous concoctions found in literature and art of the eras responsible for giving us Greek mythology and, specifically, in creating the legends of the Chimera. More recently, pop culture has explored the concept of a supernatural chimera, such as that used in recent story arcs on MTV’s Teen Wolf, and as frightening as those chimeras might have been, they were all still fictional embellishments. Now, it seems American scientists are giving us the real thing.

Chimeras May Be Able To Save Our Lives, But Is It Ethical?

United States research scientists are already creating half-human, half-animal embryos, which they say will help them find cures for a wide range of illnesses by giving them better models by which to study the progression of diseases. One major aim of these experiments is to create farm animals that would have the internal organs of human beings. Once matured, the organs would be harvested from the chimeras and transplanted into human beings in need of organ replacements.

Even in writing, this practice seems to present a quagmire of ethical dilemmas, many of which might not have been considered by the scientists moving forward with these experiments. Merely creating the chimeras seems like a highly questionable practice, invoking the lessons learned from stories like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau, written by H.G. Wells, and yet it seems we haven’t seriously taken the warnings found in these fables.

Not everyone is on board with creating chimeras for the purposes of furthering scientific research, however.

The Chimera Debate: Scientists Clash Over The Creation Of A New Species For Scientific Research

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While the practice of creating chimeras is still growing in popularity amid the scientific community, many bioethicists and scientists are already questioning the morality of these projects. One such person, Stuart Newman, who is the Professor of Cell Biology at New York Medical College, says he finds news of this practice unsettling, adding that creating chimeras damages “our sense of humanity.”

Two other professors, Ryan Troy and John Powers, from the University of California-Davis, represent an opposing opinion in their recent paper, Human-Animal Chimeras: What Are We Going to Do? by stating that the creation of a chimera doesn’t necessarily threaten human dignity. In their paper on chimeras, Troy and Powers assert that the greatest fear in creating the chimera is the fear that humans and animals should remain distinguishable, but they add this fear is unfounded.

In recognizing the moral dilemma in creating chimeras for scientific use, the National Institutes of Health has stepped in, placing a moratorium on funding experiments which involve the creation of a chimera. The moratorium has done little to discourage the scientific community, however. Many researchers have turned toward unconventional funding, so they may continue their chimera experiments without fear of losing contributions and grants.

Arizona State University bioethicists have suggested that by introducing human DNA into animal embryos, scientists are essentially “playing God” and creating creatures never meant to exist.

“I don’t consider that we’re playing God or even close to that. We’re just trying to use the technologies that we have developed to improve people’s life,” said reproductive biologist Pablo Ross.

Ross could be quoting from Mary Shelley’s novel almost word for word in his defense of creating chimeras. The obsession for creating the perfect life and improving upon the lives of the living drove Victor to create his monster, a chimera incorporating the best parts of various men, in the same hopes currently shared by Pablo Ross and others like him. There are unseen consequences to these kinds of experiments, as Victor Frankenstein would eventually learn, so one must wonder what, if any, precautions the scientific community is taking. The creation of a chimera causes the downfall of mankind in countless science fiction films and novels, yet the scientific community seems to have become blinded to the lessons those stories sought to teach.

[Image by New Line Cinema]