Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California have created something of a monster, for an awesome reason. Named after the hybrid beast of Greek lore, this Chimera embryo is part human and part pig.
“It marks the first time that embryos combining two large, distantly-related species have been produced,” reports the Guardian.
Sounds like a grim prospect, but it’s not what you think. The aim of the study is to create pigs that look like pigs but carry within them, human organs. This could take the pressure off of human to human organ donation and save many more lives.
How did they do it? First, human stem cells were injected into pig embryos resulting in 2,000 hybrids that were then transferred to sows. 150 of these developed into the ‘chimeras,’ though mostly pig, they contained around 10,000 human cells.
They developed for 28 days or the first trimester of a pig pregnancy which lasts 112 days. The embryos were then removed and studied.
“This is long enough for us to try to understand how the human and pig cells mix together early on without raising ethical concerns about mature chimeric animals,” Izpisua Belmonte, lead author of the study told the Guardian.
So, don’t worry about a pig humanoid creation attacking you in an alleyway. Belmonte and his team say they are being responsible with their results and are hoping to ‘turn off’ genes in the pig embryos giving the additional human cells a head start to develop organs like the heart and liver without swine interference.
The process still has a long way to go, but the researchers are continuing their exploration of our cellular potential. Flying pigs might be closer than we think.