Monday, December 20, 2004

Human Chimeras, Continued

Andrew Huff, from Monkey McGee's Wild Ride, left a comment about my post pertaining to three-parent babies.  It is one of the longer, more thoughtful comments I have had in a while.   He raises a point that I had overlooked.  In addition to the moral issues pertaining to chimeras that contain human cells, he points out that there are safety issues involved with the creation of such new creatures.  This is analogous to the issues surrounding genetically-modified crops.  Specifically, there can be definite benefits, but there also are risks that come with the insertion of foreign genetic material into crops.  So far, no one has demonstrated a serious ecological harm, but the potential is there, and it is very difficult to predict ahead of time what sort of unintended consequences might ensue. 

I'm not sure that anyone has explored this issue in detail.  For example, would the creation of chimeras that contain human cells make it easier for viruses to mutate such that they could inhabit human cells?  That is pure speculation on my part, but it is the sort of thing that ought to be considered before going ahead with such research. 

When I first thought about the issue, I was assuming that any chimeras that would be created would be contained in a laboratory environment, not released into the wild.  That probably is true.   But microorganisms are not so easily contained, especially if the chimeras are used to generate products that are intended for use outside the laboratory. 

Not that we don't have enough to worry about already, but it is something to think about.