Scientists Create Human-Sheep Hybrid; Are We Playing God?

Close-up of a Sheep's head against white background

A team of scientists successfully bred the first human-sheep hybrid, developing technology that could expand the availability of organs for transplant procedures. The embryo wasn’t allowed to develop past 28 days, but that hasn’t made this creation of chimeras any less controversial.

Human-Sheep Chimeras

The recent breakthrough is the second of its kind after scientists successfully crossbred human and pig cells last year. They initially chose pigs as an ideal candidate for hybridization due to similarities in organ structure, but their attempts yielded too low of a human cell count to effectively grow compatible organs.

With this latest chimera, scientists have increased the cell count ratio of human to sheep cells to one in ten thousand, a tenfold improvement from the human-pig hybrid. But in order to grow a human organ, the team thinks it would need to improve that ratio to one in a hundred.

 

human sheep hybrid

 

The demand for healthy organs continues to rise globally, with over 115,000 people on a waiting list for a lifesaving organ in the U.S. alone. On average, there are nearly 100 transplants that take place in the U.S. every day.

With the demand for certain organs outpacing supply, some countries have used questionable practices to appease those shortages. The development of hybrids through genome editing and stem cell research has presented a potential opportunity to solve the problem without the need for a human donor. Though it hasn’t been met with universal acceptance.

Scientists use the CRISPR and Cas9 gene editing tools to isolate specific strands of animal DNA and replace them with human DNA, essentially hacking into the evolutionary process. In addition to sheep and pigs, the technology was used to cure disease and implant human brain cells in rodents, inevitably begging the question of whether this could result in humanlike consciousness in animals or any number of other horrifying possibilities one might imagine.

Though the ostensible intentions of these project are benevolent, some feel as if scientists are playing god. It’s not hard to imagine countries with fewer ethical dilemmas acquiring access to the technology and creating deformed creatures with a greater capacity for consciousness.

But scientists working on the project have attempted to assuage those fears, saying their work could save the lives of thousands waiting for a transplant if research is continued further. In many countries, including the U.S. and U.K. there are laws preventing scientists from developing hybrid embryos past a certain stage, though this latest research has started to open up the possibility for approval on a case-by-case basis.



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Mites, Monsanto Cause Colony Collapse Disorder; Is Fungi A Solution?

Something has killed honey bees in droves for the past 20 years leading to what’s known as colony collapse disorder. For a while, the culprit remained ambiguous, but now scientists are discovering that a number of anthropogenic factors, including Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate, pesticides, and parasites may be to blame. Though these may seem like disparate problems requiring complicated solutions, there is one man who believes he has an answer that could save the bees—that man is Paul Stamets, and his answer is fungi.

Over the past several years, Stamets has become something of a rockstar in the field of mycology—the study of fungi—for his radical and pioneering work discovering the endless applications and influences mushrooms have on our world.

Since he began researching fungi in the 1970s, Stamets has received 12 patents, written six books, and been recognized by a multitude of esteemed institutions. There’s even a character on Star Trek: Discovery named after him—Lt. Cmdr. Paul Stamets.

Part of Stamets’ appeal stems from his Deadhead-turned-scientist persona that views fungi from a spiritual perspective, not just a materialist lens. Stamets admits his early use of Psilocybe cubensis, also known as “magic” mushrooms, became the catalyst for his fascination, leading to a lifelong journey studying the myriad mycelia that populate the planet.

Stamets’ discoveries have changed lives and now he hopes to parlay his mushroom knowledge into a comprehensive plan to save the bees, and in the process, maybe save humanity as well.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon in which there is a mass exodus of worker bees from the hive, typically dying or fleeing from infection. These bees leave their queen behind with a few nurse bees to care for her, though their chances for survival drop significantly, especially as winter draws near. Scientists have identified several factors related to colony collapse, most of which stem from pathogens and chemicals that degrade bees’ immune systems.

And while we all know bees produce honey and wax, many don’t realize just how crucial they are to our survival as a species.

Bees are pollinators, and while this may seem obvious, many are unaware of just how essential bee pollination is to agriculture. When a bee collects nectar from a plant it picks up pollen and transmits it to other plants, allowing them to bear fruit. And a single bee can pollinate up to 1000 flowers a day.

This process is necessary for our agricultural industry, as about 35 percent of our food is directly dependent on bee pollination, while the other 65 percent is indirectly dependent. If bee pollination suddenly ceased, it’s estimated around $16 billion worth of crops would be affected in the United States alone.

And over the past few decades, beekeepers and entomologists have noticed massive drop-offs in bee populations globally. In a matter of a single year, states like Oklahoma lost as much as 85 percent of beehives due to colony collapse. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, a third of all bee colonies have died each year since 2006. So, what exactly is causing this apiological pandemic?

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