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Scientists grow first human-monkey hybrid in China

Human-animal chimeras were stuff of the imagination in 2006, when they unexpectedly became part of the U.S. State of the Union Address. Now, they may be reality. A Spanish scientist claims to have grown a human-monkey hybrid in a Chinese laboratory.

According to the research team, the embryo would have been viable, but they destroyed it 14 days after it was created.

“We are now trying not only to move forward and continue experimenting with human cells and rodent and pig cells, but also with non-human primates,” Dr. Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte told the Daily Mail.

The researchers modified monkey embryos, turning off the genes that are required for forming organs. They, they injected them with human stem cells. Such cells are capable of forming any kind of tissue, the researchers said. They called their project a step toward using animals for human organ transplants.

But the experiment has raised ethical issues. The scientists had to create their human-monkey hybrid in China because laws prevent such experimentation elsewhere. 

“To be honest, it just really ethically scares me,” Dr. Douglas Munoz of Queen’s University told the National Post in July, referring to a similar experiment using genetically altered macaque embryos. “For us to start to manipulate life functions in this kind of way without fully knowing how to turn it off, or stop it if something goes awry really scares me.”

This isn’t Izpisúa’s first foray into the world of chimeras. He and his team experiments to create a human-pig hybrid in 2017, without real success. 

“The human cells did not take hold. We saw that they contributed very little [to the development of the embryo]: one human cell for ever 100,000 pig cells,” University of California veterinarian Pablo Ross told the Mail.

Izpisúa’s team plans to continue to work with human, rodent, pig and non-human primate cells. They have not yet published a report on their human-monkey hybrid.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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