Human/animal hybrids: are they possible, and could they be saved?

by Meloni 7585-cow
Published: 24 October 2013 (GMT+10)

Scientists in China announced that they’ve engineered cows to give milk that is similar to human milk. The Telegraph website1 reports:

The scientists have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk. … The researchers used cloning technology to introduce human genes into the DNA of Holstein dairy cows before the genetically modified embryos were implanted into surrogate cows.

The Chinese cows give milk that is said to be 80% the same as humans, but in Argentina, cows that have two human genes (compared to the Chinese cows which have one), may produce milk even more similar to human breast milk. Although both the Chinese and Argentine scientists insist that the cows’ modified milk is safe for human consumption, there will be long periods of testing to ensure that there are no negative effects for humans (especially as this was conceived as a way to give infants something superior to formula when the child is not breast-fed).

These cows are otherwise identical to other cows; the genes added only seem to affect the composition of the cows’ milk. But such experiments raise the question: is it possible to have a true animal/human hybrid? And if there were a true human hybrid, would that creature be able to be saved? And is this experimentation moral?

Animal cloning and genetic experimentation on humans

There are real concerns with animal cloning, including health problems in cloned animals and reduced lifespan.

God created humans to be stewards over His creation. This gives us a certain amount of authority over creation, and the privilege to use it for our benefit, but also the responsibility to care for creation. In principle, animal experimentation (providing that it does not involve imposing gratuitous suffering on the animals) is allowed. However, there are real concerns with animal cloning, including health problems in cloned animals and reduced lifespan. So while it is allowed under the dominion mandate, there are valid concerns for the welfare of the animals involved.

Under the same principle, adding human genes to cows to modify their milk is not prohibited by Scripture. However, the dominion mandate does not give humans the right to experiment on other humans, so this sort of experimentation on humans would be unbiblical.

Human or animal?

Would it be possible to engineer an animal with so many genes that it would become partly human? With current technology, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. The cows with the human genes are not human in any way, except that their milk is closer to human milk in its composition—the genes are only expressed in the udder. The genome of an animal like a cow is so complex that manipulating more than a few genes will likely result in a non-viable egg.

Going the other way, it would theoretically be possible to add animal genes to human clones (though this would be deeply immoral). Such humans might have an enhanced sense of smell, greater muscle mass, or some other exaggerated feature, but they would still be humans, much like the cows are still cows.

What is a human?

But we might ask: what if technology allowed us to manipulate the DNA of a creature so much that it was impossible to tell whether it was human or animal? What if a viable creature were precisely 50% human and 50% chimpanzee genetically, for example?

There is no indication that the image of God could ever be present in part in hybrids in proportion to how genetically similar they are to humans.

It is difficult to make pronouncements based on things that are far from being possible, but such a hybrid would either be 100% human or 100% animal. This is because humans aren’t simply another animal—we are created in the image of God. Therefore they are different in kind, not merely in degree, from other animals. There would be degrees of hybridization where the person would still be able to form language, understand the Gospel, and display other clear indications of humanity. And there would be other degrees where the animal would clearly still display animal behaviors and not have human behaviors, even if their organs were similar to human organs, for instance. And even if there were degrees where it looked ambiguous to us, the spiritual state of the creature would still be either 100% human or 100% animal (though human and animal genomes are too far apart for current technology to be able to create, say, a ‘half-cat’, ‘half-human’ creature).

There are humans with genetic anomalies—for instance, Down Syndrome results from an extra chromosome—who everyone acknowledges as fully human. And every single one of us has thousands of genetic mutations accumulated and passed down from our ancestors (and we accumulate more throughout our lives), yet we are not less human than people several thousand years ago. So there is good evidence that humanity is not defined solely by genetic ‘purity’, but by the presence of the image of God.

Are hybrids possible? Yes and no

Any animal that has even a single human gene is a ‘hybrid’, in one sense. But this does not make the animal capable of being saved, nor does it display any of the distinctive human characteristics which differentiate us from animals. Furthermore, there is no indication that the image of God, the main distinctive characteristic of humanity, could ever be present in part in hybrids in proportion to how genetically similar they are to humans.

References and notes

  1. Gray, R., Genetically modified cows produce ‘human’ milk, The Telegraph, 2 April 2011, Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Pat G.
A "minor" correction, if I may. Human beings are not animals. We have a kingdom of our own. The fact that we somewhat resemble some animals doesn't change that fact. It's our being made in God's image and our eternal destiny that makes the difference. We alone are sapient, some claims about dolphins, chimps, and primates notwithstanding.
anna M.
God created everything after it's own kind. Only humans were formed (He got his hands dirty!) with a free will, to choose to obey God or not. God put that tree there to allow us to choose. As animals do not have the ability to grasp that concept, they can't be saved, as according to acts 2:38. Jesus died for our sins (willful disobedience to Gods word) Our own free will and Gods conviction brings us to repent, be baptized and receive His Spirit. Animals can not repent. I love animals and am grateful to God for creating them and preserving them in the ark. But no matter how much I preach to the cat, she will not ask me to baptize her (that would be downright cruel!) God's Spirit may move on an animal to help us, like the donkey, warning the prophet of the angel in the way. God giving it a human voice. But I never saw an animal prophesy or speak in tongues. God will never put His Spirit in an animal (Satan and his imps will though! Legion entered a pig when permitted.) As we have been given a human spirit, the eternal part of us which God breathed into us, we were made in His likeness as God is Spirit. No animal equals that. Even a cloned animal is still an animal.
Andrew S.
In the comments, I think there seems to be some confusion about the type of hybridization that has occurred in the article; a part of the human genetic code has been spliced into a cow, which coded for the production of something resembling human breast milk.

A true hybridization resulting in an animal-man is something that did not occur, and it's best not to equate a cow that can produce human-like milk, with the ability to produce a full hybrid animal-man.

It's fruitless to pose questions about impossible hypothetical situations, or even situations that have not occurred. For example: would a human/cow true hybrid have the ability to reason like a human? that would be akin to asking if a chicken would write poetry if we gave it hands and a pen.

Rather, one needs to look at what we do know from genetics, genetic modification, information theory, limitations of change and reproduction as shown by the study of baramin, speciation and breeding, and also what predictions we can make based on logical deduction from scripture.

For example: Crop modification has shown us that splicing and modifying genetic code can lead to fatal or damaging consequences for the modified organism.

The coding and information for each kind of life is fine-tuned for that particular form of life. Even though some things share a similar amount of DNA with a human (50% with a banana, for example), that doesn't mean that you can breed a banana-man. The coding and functions it carries out is specific to that organism, etc.. The system would probably fatally-crash if you try truly combining two different systems from two-life forms that are uniquely different, such as humans and animals.

...and so on.

Please see my previous comment also about humans being created uniquely separate from animals.
Tom K.
If a 50% woman / chimpanzee hybrid were to exist, and she had the "could be saved" characteristics of being able to talk, reason etc, then if I married her, it would not be bestiality, even if she looked like a chimp?
Lita Cosner
Tom, like the article stated, that sort of human genetic engineering would be deeply immoral. Second, something that ambiguous would probably be impossible. So this question is sort of like arguing whether it's moral to hunt unicorns or enslave Bigfoot--it doesn't exist and never will, so the question is moot.
Nick H.
Great suggestion Lita. I disagree with the phrase 'ungodly scientists'. Genetic engineering has significant medical possibilities, and I don't think it is to be avoided at all costs. That sounds a lot like censorship. I think the main point is, we will get there, however long it takes. And it would be a good idea to be looking to God for direction, so we can use this new technology, to whatever extent, to glorify Him.
john C.
The article does not venture into that form of hybridization that would involve the simple
"test-tube" combining of gametes of man and beast, e.g chimpanzee sperm and human egg.
That procedure, if successful, would produce a hybrid in the usual sense of that term.

Some scientists argue that our DNA is something like 98 percent "identical" to that of the chimpanzee, which they consider "man's closest relative." Studies, however, have shown that although these similarities exist, the manner of physiological "expression" of the DNA is a chimp differs in many ways from the manner of its "expression" in man. Because of this, I suspect that the product of such a union of primates would be unsuccessful, that is, would not produce a viable offspring.

For all we know, there might already have been an attempt to produce this kind of hybrid primate. The results, if unsuccessful, might have gone unreported owing to the obvious controversiality of such experimentation.
Sandy J.
If you consider the difference between the animals and human beings, the question is actually irrelevant. All that cloning can do is to modify physical features. Even if enough modification of, say, an ape could be accomplished to give every appearance and physical ability of humanity, it is impossible to clone a soul or transpose a soul from a human to an animal.
Notice that God did something very different to humans at creation than he did for any animal. He breathed "the breath of life" into man and man became a "living soul" ( Genesis 2:7 ). God did not say this of any animal (Genesis 1). No matter how clever human scientists are, they cannot accomplish the construction of a soul or a spirit. These are the perogative of God alone.
Therefore, even a creature designed by human tinkering to resemble humans in every physical way cannot have a soul or spirit and salvation applies to those, not to present physical bodies.
God does not save animals. They are creatures for time alone. There are creatures in heaven (read Revelation) which are different from those found on planet Earth. Nowhere in scripture is there any reference to animals on Earth possessing souls. Even the ass which spoke to Balaam (Num.22:28) only had that uniquely human ability temporarily as God gave it for a momentary purpose.
The question of salvation for a human designed creature is not moot. God Himself would have to give such a creature a soul and spirit before it could be saved, so the question is irrelevant.
Randy F.
In Genesis chapter 1 it is recorded that God created the creatures that live in the waters according to their kinds, every winged bird according to their kinds, as well as livestock, creatures that move along the ground and wild animals according to their kinds. No matter how you look at it, mankind (specifically ungodly scientists playing with the fabric of life) splicing DNA from one kind into another kind is a great abomination and totally, utterly WRONG! Especially if it is involving human DNA either way. All of this is so ungodly!
Lita Cosner
Thanks for these comments. But could I suggest the articles Cloning: Right or Wrong?, Manipulating Life?, and other articles from our Cloning Q&A page.
Laurence T.
It seems to me that the question is one of self-awareness. The cow with the modified milk is simply a cow with modified milk, and a human with a non-human spare part is still a human with a spare part - it makes no difference whether the part is made of pigflesh or plastic.

If, however, one was to create, say, a human/chimp cross, the question would be, what does the offspring think it is? Does it display human-like or chimp-like behaviour and thought processes? Could it learn to read, write, count, and have a conversation?

The original question was "could it be saved?" The answer would depend on whether the creature believes that it can - if it has the knowledge and reasoning capability to understand the concept of God, religion and salvation, then surely it should be permitted to benefit from them?
Kristine E.
I disasgree that experimentation on animals is legitimate. An animal will not understand the experiment and will be afraid and that is reason enough to abstain from experimentation on animals. Period.
Dave C.
"Lita Cosner responds It is difficult to even answer this question, because there's so many layers of impossibility. First, our technology is nowhere near where it would need to be to do more than insert a gene here and there. Second, it's unlikely that it would be possible to engineer a creature to such an extent that we wouldn't know what it was."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic" Arthur C Clarke. How long ago was the genetic science mentioned here considered impossible? Explain to someone from the 1700's a hologram? It's not possible or understandable now but with those who are fueled by money or ambition and not morals, unless God acts in another Tower of Babel event, anything could be possible.
Roland S.
All I know is, the gallon of milk that I buy from the store, I definitely don't want it to come from one of these cows! lol
Yee E.
Good article. It took me time to understand and reconcile this article. It is interesting that you mention that eventhough if there is a creature which is 50/50 human+animal it is still 100% human or animal. This caught me thinking that in every creature there is a 'core' DNA which determines what the creature is. What the scientists are doing is introducing an 'extra' part into the cow genome but it doesn't change the fact that it is a cow. Such cow milk is still under testing for its safety. We have to be aware that such experimentation has consequences even when we are doing in reverse because we may not know the consequence. These 'hybrids' are not really hybrids because it is not 50% human 50% cow during union of a human sperm and a cow ovum or vice versa. I've read the Telegraph article and I must take note of Professor Keith Campbell said although he was talking about dairy products but we should not introduce such poison into the image bearers of God.
P. T.
Hi CMI, thanks for a great article.
It seems that we can waxe lyrical about the possibilities of things mankind might do or try.
But what has God Himself said? In Genesis 1 the most repeated phrase is "according to their kind" (or, after their own kind, or similar). Genetically speaking, kinds are distinct and cannot be truly crossed with other kinds - although mankind might label grotesque results as a hybrid just to defy God's word.
Also, man is made in God's image - that is, as well as being physically unique in many ways, we are spiritual beings who uniquely represent Him. Jesus our precious Savior came to save repentant sinful PEOPLE from God's righteous wrath and give THEM eternal life - He in no way promises that mutant unrepentant "half- or part-human" creatures can be given eternal life by virtue of His death - He is OUR Kinsman-redeemer.
Because our scientists throw up all manner of intriguing possibilities of what they might accomplish, we who believe God's word must be wary of being distracted from the main thing - to tell the glorious gospel to sinners, that they might be saved from the condemnation they (we) deserve.
God knows what men do and try - and He pursues His goal meanwhile. Have faith in God, not in mere men!
bill M.
Seems the genome would only affect the body, and not affect the soul/spirit. I would think that, if human egg and sperm were used, the result would have a human soul/spirit and be fully human--just deformed in body.
Timothy C.
I should say that a few genes does not make something a human. They say that the chimp is 96-99% identical (depending on who you ask) to us. Yet the 1% that is different is the one percent tells the creature how to use the other 99%. In other words, it is the most error-intolerant part of the entire program.

When it comes to programs that use the same sets of code, it's the small portion of code that's different that tells the application how to use the large portion of code that's the same. Just one mistake while changing that small portion of code will destroy the program.
Andrew S.
I remember hearing about this a little while ago. I was asked innocently if this possibly made a cow human in some sense.

My answer was simple: is a human only defined by a singular trait or element? or does the whole of the person define them as uniquely human?

For example, is a human that uses a pig's heart valve after a transplant make them a pig, or even partly a pig? Does the valve blur the line so this human is now confused for said pig?

Obviously the answer is no; humans are distinctly different from the animals across a wide variety of areas that, as a whole, make us readily identifiable as unique and different from the animals.

In the same way a human can artificially utilize a pig's heart valve for medical purposes, a cow can utilize transplanted human genes that instructs on how to produce milk in a certain manner.

Of course, the foundation lies with origins. Humans, created separately from the animals in the image of God, with a mind that is higher than any animal would indeed always be human and will bare no ancestral relation to animals at all. Thus, you cannot confuse a human as "part animal" under any condition.

However, with evolution, humans are just animals to begin with, no different than a pig or cow - so you could claim that the cow in the article is part human because you can only define a being by just the matter and energy it is made from. However, this would expect that we find an abundance of similarities with animals due to this, but we do not observe this.

I also put forward that there will never be such thing as a true animal/human hybrid such as a bird man, for example, due to differences in genetic coding and functionality; there would be compatibility issues which would essentially crash the program.
Filipp T.
Bravo! well said. This topic personally, would have never come to mind however, now I feel if the time came I would be able to give a defense for my stance on such an issue. May our Lord, father and savior continue to bless and guide this ministry!
Ian R L.
I do not believe it is God's will for people, mankind, to be animal/human hybrids. The Lord right in the beginning created man in His Image. Should man meddle with God's, prime creation at all. He placed us to be charge over creation, not to mess around there with.
Should mankind touch, or mess with human dna, crossbreeding with animals, they do not honour God or His creation. Why then was Sodom & Gomorrah destroyed? 'tis because they greatly sinned; did great evil & wickedness in God's sight.
Mary J.
My comment pertains more to the title than the article. I've observed that there are tiny portions of the Bible which seem to contain the "flip side" of Greek mythology. One is Genesis 6:1-4, the other Jude, v. 4-7. The Genesis reference seems to give the Biblical version of the origin of people like Hercules and Achilles, etc., the Jude verses seem to mention the Titans. This has caused me to wonder if, pre-flood or shortly after, people were able to create actual chimeras. I wondered this after reading how scientists have done so recently.
Lita Cosner
There's all sorts of extra-biblical traditions about what was going on in the days before the Flood, especially from the Jewish tradition. But I don't think we can go beyond what Scripture tells us, and it doesn't give us details.
Mike N.
Yea, I completely disagree with the assumptions of what scriptures say about gene modifications. You would be hard pressed to show any scripture that you could extrapolate to mean "we can play around" with another kind. I believe at the end of the day we must seek God's will of whether or not we should be doing such things. I don't think we should.
Obble S.
How about the Nythlem, 1/2 woman 1/2 fallen angle in Gen 6 I think? They were not "human", so I would say genetic ‘purity’ is very important. I thought they were outside of salvation because they were not 100% kin of adam?
Lita Cosner
Roger T.
Shades of Nania!
With regard to salvation for such a creature (if it were to exist) would it have knowledge of what sin is?
Best Regards,
Lita Cosner
It is difficult to even answer this question, because there's so many layers of impossibility. First, our technology is nowhere near where it would need to be to do more than insert a gene here and there. Second, it's unlikely that it would be possible to engineer a creature to such an extent that we wouldn't know what it was.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.