U.K. Grants Approval for Human-pig Hybrid Embryos

This article is part 1 of 3 in a series.

The U.K.'s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has approved an application by the University of Warwick to form pig-human embryos. As of July 1, 2008, under the 12-month license, researchers plan to place human DNA (both nuclear and mitochondrial) into a pig egg cell.

Research team leader Professor Justin St. John told the Telegraph that by creating hybrids, "We can attempt to derive embryonic stem cells....Ultimately, they will help us to understand where some of the problems associated with |heart| diseases arise and they could also provide models for the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs."1

Despite the U.K. scientists' efforts, there is no longer a need for embryonic stem cells, since stem cells can now be derived from adult sources. This fact begs the question of the perceived necessity to continue experimentation with embryonic, rather than adult, stem cells.

St. John said, "We are hoping to create cells that would have human chromosomes and human mitochondrial DNA."1 We have those already. They’re called "human cells." For several years now, researchers have been attempting to overcome the incompatibility of nuclear DNA from one species with the mitochondrial DNA of the other egg-donating species.2 However, there is no longer a strong medical reason to work through the mitochondrial/nuclear compatibility problem,3 unless the goal is to clone a human.

It is our responsibility to protect life (especially human life) as we submit to God’s command on this issue: "Thou shalt not kill."4 The possibility of animal-human chimeras opens the door for future ethical dilemmas, including the use of women's wombs for the industrial production of body parts, the harvesting of body parts from clones, and the waste of embryonic human life through research and development. We would do well to remember and not repeat the 20th century mistakes of mass murder in the name of scientific progress.

References

  1. Highfield, Roger. Human-pig hybrid embryos given go ahead. Posted on Telegraph.co.uk. July 1 2008, accessed July 2, 2008.
  2. Tecirleoglu, R.T. et al. 2006. Interspecies Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer and Preliminary Data for Horse-Cow/Mouse iSCNT. Stem Cell Reviews. 2:277-285
  3. For justification of this statement, see the next article in this series of three on pig-human embryos.
  4. Exodus 20:13.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.

Article posted on July 9, 2008.

To read the next article in the series, go to "Understanding the Stem Cell Debate."


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