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Why human cells grown in monkey embryos sparked ethics debate?

Topics Covered: Ethical issues involved.

Why human cells grown in monkey embryos sparked ethics debate?


Context:

Researchers from US have for the first time grown human cells in monkey embryos. 

  • By integrating human cells into the embryos of macaque monkeys, researchers have created what is called a chimeric tool.
  • Chimeras are organisms that are made up of the cells of two distinct species, in this case humans and monkeys.

What’s the purpose of chimeric research?

  • Researchers believe that this ability to grow cells of two different species together offers scientists a powerful tool for research and medicine, advancing current understanding about early human development, disease onset and progression and ageing.
  • Further, research of this kind could also help in drug evaluation and address the critical need for organ transplantation.

What are the ethical concerns about this?

Generally, different species don’t cross-breed and if they do, their offspring don’t survive for long and are prone to infertility. But, Some rare hybrid animals exist naturally and were probably the result of unintentional cross breeding between animals of different species.

  • While further research into chimeras might lead to progress, which could mean that they could be used as a source of organs for humans, these chimeras would still be a mix of human and non-human cells, a thought that makes many uncomfortable.
  • The research raises “the philosophical and ethical issue of moral status: how should we treat other life forms?”.
  • Opponents argue that chimera research has the potential to worsen injustice against animals and also point out the fairness in using part-human animals to meet human needs.

Similar cases in the past:

  • In 2018, Dr He Jiankui made headlines when he claimed to have produced genetically modified babies using the gene editing technique Jiankui claimed that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin girls with specific desired attributes — supposedly the first instance of human offspring so produced.
  • In developing countries like India, genetically modified crops are also a contentious topic.

Sources: Indian Express.