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The New Law on Admixed Embryos and the Genetic Heritage of the Living Kingdom

Scientists in the US recently created a fluorescent human embryo. This was achieved by inserting a gene for green fluorescent protein. This shows that it is possible to successfully transfer a gene from a non-human animal to a human and for that gene to express its function. Other animal studies have shown that such gene transfer is both safe and effective, creating super animals, such as mice with colour-vision derived from human genes transferred.

The Bill passed in the UK parliament to allow the creation of human admixed embryos opens the door to this kind of research in the UK, up to 14 days during the embryo’s life. At present this will facilitate the creation of cybrids as a source of stem cells for experimentation. But further into the future, it allows the creation of transgenic and chimeric human embryos, like those created in the US.

This is a momentous piece of legislation which may bear directly, in the future, on the direction and perhaps even existence of humanity. Its significance is not that it allows the creation of new circus freaks, fluorescent humans – it would be a criminal offence to allow these embryos to gestate beyond 2 weeks. Rather, it allows scientists to utilise the genetic heritage of the entire living kingdom on earth. Humans could benefit from the genes of any living or even deceased plant or animal. this might enable research to occur which could provide humans with the power to photosynthesise, to have the sonar of a bat, the visual acuity of a hawk, the hearing of a dog or the balance of a cat. But more importantly, many animals are resistant to diseases that humans are susceptible to. This opens up the possibility of conferring genetic resistance to disease or ageing.

The potential of this kind of research is enormous for humanity, extending far beyond the development of stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine. It opens the door to transferring the building blocks of life, function, capacity, behaviour from other species into humans. Natural evolution would never have achieved this. If we are to withstand radical infectious, environmental or other challenges, we may need the knowledge that this research may provide, to modify significantly our genetic nature. At present, no such threats exist. But they may. This science is an insurance policy for humanity, as well as opening the door to liberation from our human constraints.

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