What do you get when you combine a pig and a human? A pigman? A “huig?” In a remarkable, if likely controversial experiment, scientists announced that they have created the first successful human-animal hybrid. The project proves that human cells can be introduced into a non-human organism, survive, and even grow inside a host animal. In this case, pigs.
Scientists created what’s known scientifically as a “chimera,” an organism that contains cells from two different species. This can be essential for people who are in dire need of organs.
It all happened when scientists, belonging to the Salk Institute, injected pig embryos with human stem cells that were capable of developing into a wide range of tissues. Those embryos were then transferred into the wombs of mother pigs. After four weeks, the scientists came back to discover that the human cells had started to settle into the developing pig embryos. A blob of fetal pig tissue appeared to be developing into a cluster of unique organs. Human cells appeared in the organism which could be compatible with the human body.
The reason that this medical advance is being explored is due to a critical shortage of donor organs. Every ten minutes, a person is added to the national waiting list for organ transplants, and every day, 22 people on that list die without the organ they need. What if rather than waiting on a generous donor, you could grow a custom-made organ inside an animal instead?
Pigs are fellow mammals whose organs grow to be the same size as an adult males in the span of about two years. If the human immune system is fooled into taking in an organ from a pig, then the organ would function accordingly with the rest of the body and would not be rejected. This study could effectively save the lives of many people who are waiting for organs around the world.
However, there are also moral and ethical concerns about this type of experiment. Pigs are living creatures after all, and we will be killing them solely to harvest their organs for humans. In addition, the scientists must make sure that the pigs don’t mutate into something more human, resulting in the development of some kind of humanesque brain or cognitive capacity. That would not only be disturbing for some people, but would also be inhumane for us to kill, as it could be equivalent to that of killing another sentient being.
In the future, we may be living in a world where pigs fly!