Comments on Britain’s cybrid ‘part human, part cow’ embryos

Thursday, 3 April, 2008

Researchers at the University of Newcastle have announced that they created human-animal hybrids! What do we say to that?

My response – a rather unimpressed “that’s nice”. Despite all the press it is getting, there are some important things to remember:

  • This is not new – human-animal cybrids were first created over five years ago, by Huizhen Sheng at the Shanghai Second Medical University, China. They used anucleated rabbit cells and inserted the human nucleus into those to create stem cells. It is the first time this was done in European labs though, so in that respect it is a first.
  • This is just for stem cells – for some reason, hopefully just safety concerns, it is illegal to implant human-animal cybrids (and human-human cybrids in some countries). The cells were therefore destroyed at the blastocyst (because as you surely know, a blastocyst will die unless it is implanted).
  • Cybrids are not a different species – cybrids differ only in their source of mitochondrial DNA. They are the same species as their nuclear DNA, meaning that a human nucleus inserted (properly) into an anucleated bovine cell will grow into a perfectly normal human embryo, and if implanted will grow into a human being capable of reproducing with any other member of the human species.
  • On that note, the cybrid will not act like animal – human nuclear DNA controls almost everything that DNA can control, so if these human-bovine cybrids were implanted and grown to term, they would not have an udder, they would not have horns or hoofs and they would not be making cow’s milk (females would be capable of making human milk though). They would human, and you wouldn’t even be able to tell them apart from anyone else. It is possible that some problems could occur due to the foreign mitochondrial DNA, but they are not going to be problems of the bovine variety.
  • A cybrid (cytoplasmic hybrid) is different to a true hybrid – a true hybrid is created by mating two species. A cytoplasmic hybrid is just inserting the nucleus from one species into the the cytoplasm from another. Because all of the cytoplasm, except for the mitochondria (which reproduce by themselves), is a product of things produced by the nuclear DNA, after just a couple of days only the mitochondria are still foreign in origin.

So get over it people. I mean, it’s cool that British researchers have had success in this difficult procedure, but not enough to get upset about. It’s certainly not an experiment of “Frankenstein proportion”.



  1. This is just for stem cells

    If I understand the articles right, the cells have to survive a minimum of six days in order to at least hope to get useful stem cells.

    I suppose unethical governments could possibly use this technique, or an advanced one based on it to grow and incubate ‘super-soldiers’, so a little caution and oversight might not be such a bad idea.

    I hope not, like I said earlier, curing inheritable illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Parkinson’s Disease can result from this research.

  2. Clarification: ‘I hope not’ = ‘I hope they don’t grow super-soldiers’.

  3. Hmm, I think anyone who can afford a 20 year biotech breeding program can certainly afford a 10 year recruitment and training program, plus better military equipment. So I don’t think a hybrid army of super soldiers is likely.

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