sábado, julho 30, 2011

Is humanity being diluted?

EDMOND — Humanized animals have been a staple of science fiction at least since 1896 when H.G. Wells wrote his classic “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

You remember the story. A shipwreck victim finds himself marooned on an island where Dr. Moreau conducts experiments aimed at transforming animals into human beings. While he succeeds in blurring the lines between humans and nonhumans, his experiments end in failure, death and destruction.

In 1958, “The Fly” fascinated American moviegoers with a tale of a scientist who accidentally crosses his “atoms” with those of a fly. Who didn’t cringe when the tiny fly with a human head was caught in a web as a carnivorous spider closed in? Science had obviously gone too far.

Ten years later, in “Planet of the Apes,” Charlton Heston plays an American astronaut who crashes onto a bizarre planet where apes are the dominant civilized life form. Humans, the more primitive species, must either be domesticated or exterminated as pests. Heston realizes, in the end, that this upside-down world is actually Earth after humankind destroyed its own civilization, opening the door to the rise of simian dominance. Presumably, scientific hubris is the culprit.

Next month, the prequel to “Planet of the Apes” will be released. We will learn that man’s downfall began when scientists integrated human traits into a chimpanzee in order to produce a cure for disease plaguing mankind. Again, philanthropic scientific impulse has gone wrong.

As pure entertainment, these great stories provided chills and thrills to the moviegoing public. On a deeper level, they warned of the dangers of using science in ways that might confuse the question of who is human and who is not. The possibility for such confusion sounded far-fetched — until recently.

Not long ago, LiveScience.com published a story under the headline: “Humanized Mice to Aid Drug Testing.” According to this article, researchers at MIT developed a race of mice with livers composed largely of human cells. Researcher Alice Chen states it won’t be long before science is able to mass-produce and distribute humanized mice, allowing industrial and academic scientists to use them for research.

Digging deeper into the story, one discovers that some U.S. researchers are currently working to create mice with human brain cells. Researchers in Scotland are doing the same with rats. Chinese scientists have already introduced human stem cells into goat fetuses. Apparently, human imagination is the only limitation on where these experiments might lead.

As these stories begin to appear in the popular media, The U.K. Academy of Medical Sciences released a report last week calling for controls on the development of ACHMs — animals containing human material. (That’s right. These humanized animals already have their own acronym). Amazingly, there are currently no meaningful controls on who can create these critters and how far they can go.

The British committee releasing the report suggested that limits on development of ACHMs be drawn on the following lines: No. 1, There should be a ban on animals that have human eggs or sperm cells that might mate to create animal-human hybrids; No. 2, There should never be nonhuman primates with enough functioning brain cells to exhibit “humanlike” behavior; No. 3, Embryos containing a mix of human and nonhuman primate cells should not be allowed to develop more than 14 days; No. 4, ACHMs should not be allowed to develop human skin or facial features and should not be engineered in ways that might enable them to talk. These guidelines will, no doubt, allow us all to rest easier.

But what about the other side of the coin? What about the tendency of people to become more like animals? Every day we see examples of people who believe the human form as nature designed it is unsatisfactory. Look at the proliferation of outlandish tattoos and extensive body piercings. Look at the animal-like implants and modifications that can be applied by willing plastic surgeons. In some quarters of western culture, permanent resemblance to an exotic animal has become “positively chic.”

No doubt resourceful entrepreneurs are already dreaming of ways to genetically graft mouse ears and tiger tails onto human beings. Imagine the advertising. Why settle for a mere tattoo when you can have fur, scales or feathers? Why settle for mere body piercing when you can have implanted horns or claws?

The ostensible reason for this ACHM research is said to advance the cause of human health. But the human appetite for the frivolous is boundless. Maybe it’s not the humanized animals we should be worrying about. Maybe we ought to be more concerned about the rise of animalized humans. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.

FONTE: http://www.edmondsun.com/  

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