Researchers have successfully created the world’s first-ever monkey-pig hybrid in a ground-breaking experiment as the state-run Chinese lab looks next to create human hybrids.
Two chimera piglets contained DNA from both pigs and cynomolgus monkeys were born, though both died within a week. More than 4000 embryos were implanted in sows. Ten piglets were born as a result, to include the two pig-primate chimeras — the other eight piglets also died.
“This is the first report of full-term monkey-pig chimeras,” Tang Hai at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology in Beijing told New Scientist.
In the chimeric piglets, the heart, liver, spleen, lung and skin tissues partly consisted of monkey cells, but the proportion was only between one in 1000 and one in 10,000, the weekly science magazine reported.
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It is unclear why the piglets died, says Hai, but because the non-chimeric pigs died as well, the team suspects it is to do with the IVF process rather than the chimerism. IVF doesn’t work nearly as well in pigs as it does in humans and some other animals.
The team is now trying to create healthy animals with a higher proportion of monkey cells, says Hai. If that is successful, the next step would be to try to create pigs in which one organ is composed almost entirely of primate cells.
Something like this has already been achieved in rodents. In 2010, Hiromitsu Nakauchi, now at Stanford University in California, created mice with rat pancreases by genetically modifying the mice so their own cells couldn’t develop into a pancreas.
There have been ethical concerns raised by some members of the scientific community, the Daily Mail noted.
Neuroscientist Douglas Munoz at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, was cited, saying research projects of this nature “just really ethically scares me.”
“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,” Munoz said.