The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Genetic Chimera

In Greek mythology there was a fire-breathing, three-headed she-monster with the body and head of a lion, a goat’s head coming from the lion’s back, and a serpent for a tail. Called KHIMAIRA (Chimera), the Greek hero, Bellerophon killed her. Today the chimera is no longer a myth but a reality. Here is the good, bad, and ugly of genetic chimera created in a laboratory. 

Image of a bronze statute of the Greek mythological monster called Chimera--not a genetic chimera
Public Domain image from the National Archive Museum in Florence via Wikimedia

Genetic Chimera

The term genetic chimera refers to a single organism composed of two or more genetically different cells. There are innate (natural) plant and animal genetic chimeras. Human chimeras were rare, or so we thought. That condition may be much more common than we assume. Most human chimeras never know they have the condition. They may have a liver with a DNA that matches the rest of their body, but their kidneys have a different DNA.

Synthetic chimera gain their unique genetic makeup through transfusion or transplantation. Human organ transplants create a synthetic chimera.

You’ve probably seen a sensational crime story where the criminal escapes because of his or her chimera blood type. And you’ve probably seen the recent sensational science news about a lab created monkey-human chimera.


Image of a mouse chimera with her pups. Momma mouse has is a lab created genetic chimera with a multi colored coat and one red eye. Babies are brown but carry the gene for mom's coat and eye color.
Public Doman image from Wikimedia

Scientists created chimeric mice in 1961. They created these chimeras in the laboratory to study gene function. And they learned a lot.

Then, scientists realized that since sheep and goats could have live offspring that were sheep-goat hybrids, they might be good experimental subjects for chimera. Scientists created the sheep-goat chimera in 1984.

Researchers hope to learn more about regenerative properties and perhaps create a part human chimera to produce organs for much needed transplants.

Then in January 2012, scientists introduced three rhesus macaques, Hex, Roku and Chimero, to the world. Scientists had mixed parts of six different embryos and created new embryos. They implanted those embryos into mama monkeys who then gave birth twins Hex and Roku and a singleton, Chimero.

Shortly after that the United Kingdom developed the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority and in the United States developed the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee. They developed both to review human embryonic stem cell research, including part-human chimera research.

Research in China doesn’t face such regulatory oversight.

The First Human-Monkey Chimera

The Chinese Academy of Science’s Kunming Institute of Zoology created the first human-monkey chimera in July 2019, a Spanish scientist, Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, from the American Salk Institute in San Diego led the project in collaboration with the Murcia Catholic University in Murcia, Spain.

The team took macaque monkey embryos and injected them with human stem cells, to see how these distantly related animal cells might coexist as one. The researchers determined that the human cells had successfully integrated in 132 of the macaque embryos, and after 10 days, 103 of the chimeric embryos were still alive and developing. They destroyed the remaining three living embryos on day 19.

The Ethical Questions

How to Write a Good Story

Human-nonhuman chimera research has been going on for a while. But we heard of the human-monkey chimera, many of us became alarmed. Why? Perhaps because monkeys are a species that are closely related to humans. Perhaps because we imagine a monstrous-to-us part-human, part-monkey creature walking amongst us.

Researchers seek answers to better understand genetics. They think their research may lead to cures or organs to transplant into patients who need transplant to survive. These are wonderful goals, aren’t they? But does the end justify the means?

Things to Think About

If we want to stop testing women’s cosmetics on lab animals, should we continue genetic research on embryos? Is it okay to have a rat or a pig-human chimera but not a monkey-human chimera? Who should regulate these experiments? And finally, if science can create a human-nonhuman chimera that is an organ match to humans in need, what rights does that human-nonhuman deserve?

Ethical questions about genetic research are occasional topics on this blog. If you find this interesting, check out this previous post about conservation genetics.

This is just the tip of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of genetic chimeras created in the laboratory. Do you have concerns about chimeras created in the lab?

A.I. Surveillance, Are We Ready?

What if with A.I. Surveillance we could find every missing person? There are more than 600,000 persons reported missing in the United States each year.  That’s about 2,000 per day.  Many of those persons are found or identified. But tens of thousands remain missing for more than a year. About 4,400 unidentified bodies are discovered each year in the U.S. Approximately 1,000 remain unidentified after one year. 

B&W image of an eye with a person's head in the center of it. What if with AI Surveillance we could find every missing person?

As appalling as those number are, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates more than 800,000 children are reported missing each year. They know this estimate is low because of under reporting and lack of statistics in many countries. 

The Future is Near

According to Garner’s Top Ten Tech Predictions for 2019 on and beyond () “By 2023, there will be an 80 percent reduction in missing people in mature markets compared with 2018 due to AI face recognition.”

Is this good new or bad? Do you envision a world of the Minority Report or The Matrix?

Image of a laptop screen with vertical strips of green data. What if with AI Surveillance we could find every missing person?

How Good is A.I.?

Before you get too freaked out, let’s look at what level this A.I. Might function.

Things to Consider

The second two, A.G.I. And A.S.I, don’t exist. So let’s assume the facial recognition A.I. is only able to be as competent but faster than a human at facial recognition. 

Presumably, A.I. Surveillance with facial recognition will be more accurate and find missing children and wandering dementia patients faster. And that can only be a good thing, right?

But what about in the countries that don’t have the tech? Heck, what about the states and counties in the U.S. Alone, that don’t have that tech? Will we use facial recognition drones? Or supply free tech to those less fortunate?

What if the missing person wants to remain missing? Will we have more people “living off the grid?” 

What if we use facial recognition A.I. for crime solving? That would be good, wouldn’t it? However, is it still good if it’s identifying jaywalkers or parking rules violators?

Is One Life Worth A.I. Surveillance?

To my heart and mind, even one missing child is too many. Even one dementia patient lost is too many. A.I. Surveillance with facial recognition could save many with the potential to save hundreds of thousands. And if it solves crime…bonus. But the ethics and the reach of this program remain things that need consideration. Three years isn’t very long.

What concerns do you have about A.I. Surveillance? 

In the Year 2525, Will These Treatments Keep You Alive?

Modern technological innovations have made dramatic differences in the work and daily lives of people. And these innovations are influencing medicine. In the year 2525, will these treatments keep you alive? Maybe. The genetic studies may take longer. Some, like 3-D printing, may save lives a lot sooner.


Drawing of a lab bottle containing a double helix--someday medical treatments based on pharmacogenomics may save your life.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Scientists will study the genetic makeup of a patient. With this genetic information, doctors will personalize medications. They will know which medicines an individual will respond to. They’ll be able to avoid medication related illness like Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Side effects may become a thing of the past.

The field of study is still in its infancy. But pharmacogenomics has a lot of potential. One hope is that we can avoid addiction. And personalized medications will provide a better quality of life for many people.

3-D Printing

Photo of a 3-D Prosthetic hand. You don't have to wait for the year 2525 for this medical treatment.

One day organ transplants will be obsolete. If you need an organ, your doctor will print one on a 3-D printer. It will be made with your own tissue. Your body will recognize and accept it.

“The most significant developments in 3-D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning” of complex surgeries. (Find more information here. ) Medical devices 3-D printed will match the patient’s own anatomy exactly. Thus the device is much more comfortable for the patient. It often provides better performance outcomes as well. 

Those organ transplants of the future? Printing human tissue is under study now. A tiny human heart was 3-D printed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel

Someday, perhaps by the year 2525, no one will die while waiting for a suitable organ transplant!

RNA Therapies

Personalize treatments using RNA therapy will “‘interfere’ with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins.” Hopefully, these therapies prevent or reverse rare genetic diseases. Read more here.

Treatments of the Future

There are many more things to learn to make these technologies effective. We also must establish guidelines for these treatments. And like with conservation genetics, there are ethical questions to consider.

But the future of medical technology is right out of science fiction. One day, these treatments may be the norm. Perhaps in 2525 we, like Dr. Bones from Star Trek, will consider today’s medical treatments barbaric. 

Breaking News: Do We Trust It?

When I friend sent me a link to this youtube video, I watched and I laughed. I thought the satire about Breaking News: Do We Trust It was right-on. Please watch (be aware that the language is a little “colorful”).

Did you laugh? Why?

Upon reflection, I found my reaction to this video to be disturbing. I felt the satire hit really close to the truth.

Is it News or Reality TV?

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered, are we devaluing news? Or are we over-valuing it? Do we, as television viewers, believe the news as much as we believe reality shows? Or has news become more about the 30 seconds of video and a sound bite? Is it more about entertainment than reporting of events that will change your life?

Are the television news anchors who read the news on their prompters and do charitable events really reporters? Should they be held accountable for inaccuracies in the news they report? Or is that only the responsibility of the “on-location” reporter?

Do you trust the evening news? Are you skeptical? For me, my skepticism grows with the size of the event and the immediacy. And the more the ‘facts’ change, the less I believe. What do you think? Is it more important that reporters get the news of an event out right away, even if they report inaccuracies?

Do you watch the ‘morning news’ shows where anchors act like everyone on the set are great friends and seem to be having a chat with you? Is this taking the ‘cold’ medium of television reporting and turning it into something like the small town newspapers of old? Or is it simply filling-air time and making anchors into celebrities?

Is interviewing passers-by or neighbors for their opinions or reactions to an event, news you want to see? Or does that interview put things into perspective for you?

Journalism Code of Ethics

The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalism can be found here. Basically, it says that reporters should be objective, honest, respectful, avoid harm, and avoid conflicts of interest. There are in fact many sites on the internet that list a code of ethics for reporters. Most of them are basically the same. One source that I’ve read, suggested that reporters should be independent, basically self-employed, in order to avoid those conflicts of interest. The anchors we see reporting the news on television are usually employees of the network or television station. Is that ethical?

I have met and know reporters I know to be ethical. Yet, I have seen things reported as news that are not honest, objective, or respectful. I am conflicted. And as a result of that, I don’t watch the news very often anymore. Do you?

I’d be pleased to have you share your opinions about televised news today. Perhaps you can enlighten me and resolve my indecision about breaking news: do you trust it.