Human-animal Hybrids?

A response by

Media reports recently made bold claims that viable human-animals hybrids are virtually a reality and implied that just a bit more tinkering and it will happen. So, what are we to make of a human-cow or human-pig or human-chimp hybrid? What would be its spiritual status, etc.?

Let’s not get carried away. Much of this is hype. Scientists have inserted human nuclear DNA into, for example, a cow’s cell, which has had its nuclear DNA removed. Some of the cells have then been able to divide to form a small mass of cells. The human DNA apparently used the cow cell to manufacture human cell components (e.g. proteins). A small number of components that are manufactured from DNA in the cell cytoplasm, which came from the cow, would be ‘cow’ (e.g. components used to make mitochrondria, the energy powerhouses of cells). In fact, I would guess that with a few cell divisions, the daughter cells would look very human, with few signs of the surrogate cow ‘mother’ cell, since almost all cell components are specified on the nuclear DNA. This would be akin to taking a human cell and putting some cow mitochondrial DNA in it—a small fraction of the total information in the cell.

This is a long way removed from creating an actual hybrid. A true hybrid involves the nuclear DNA of two individuals coming together in stable arrangement so that cell division can occur through doubling of chromosomes and division, with each cell receiving more or less equal complements of each parent’s DNA. For a start, the different chromosome numbers of cows and humans (or humans and chimps) suggest that true hybridization would be highly unlikely.

Now, is it even possible that a pseudo-embryo created by the insertion of human DNA into a cow cell could develop into a human person? I don’t believe so. Consider that it took 277 attempts to get one success with ‘Dolly’ the sheep, where sheep DNA was inserted into a sheep cell. If success with within-species cloning is elusive, the chance of success using entirely different species must be extremely low. This also provides one very good reason that cloning an extinct species of dinosaur using, say, a crocodile egg with dinosaur DNA (if it could be recovered), is nothing more than a ‘pipe dream’.

So the question about the spiritual status of a human-cow embryo / foetus produced by this technique may never need to be answered. Needless to say, attempts to produce such pseudo-hybrids should be regarded as immoral, to say the least, due to mankind’s status as being made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1). See also our Q&A section on cloning.

Published: 29 August 2001