Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A disturbing genetics experiment

You've met someone like this before

By John L. Guerra

Take a careful look at this photograph and tell me it doesn't remind you of that guy in high school who wore a light windbreaker in the middle of the winter and never changed his jeans.
Or perhaps he looks like the guy in chemistry class who came from an unhappy home but never complained, never let on that he walked the street all night because his parents were having one of their big fights.
This guy was always in a happy mood; he was the class clown. Receiving the largest applause and loudest cheers at graduation, he didn't stick around town that summer after high school ended. He hit the road for Colorado, Wyoming, someplace out West. Last you heard, he was working as a mechanic in Texas or had hitch-hiked up to Alaska to work a job on the North Slope.
It's the face of the guy who was honest, polite, friendly and respectful to classmates, especially cheerleaders, who shocked everyone but him when they greeted him in the halls with a big hug. His nickname was "Big Mike" or "Jumbo" or something like that.
Well, here's what you didn't know: "Big Mike" is a human-chimp hybrid--the result of welding human and chimpanzee chromosomes in a genetics lab far from the prying eyes of the National Institutes of Health. Also known as "humanzees," such animals have long been considered possible to engineer. Chimpanzees and humans are closely related (95 percent of their DNA sequence and 99 percent of coding DNA) leading to the theory that a hybrid is possible. So, here's how it's put in genetic terms, according to, what else? The Internet. or Wikipedia, which uses footnotes.
"Chromosomes 3, 11, 14, 15, 18, and 20 match between gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. Chimps and humans match on 1, 2p, 2q, 5, 7–10, 12, 16, and Y as well."
 This level of chromosomal similarity is roughly equivalent to that found in equine species, which have successful hybrids between horses and donkeys (mules) and horses and zebras (Zorses). 
So why not create a humanzee?
People have tried, according to Wikipedia:

"In the 1920s the Soviet biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov carried out a series of experiments to create a human/non human ape hybrid. At first working with his own sperm and chimpanzee females, none of his attempts created a pregnancy.  In 1929 he organized a set of experiments involving nonhuman ape sperm and human volunteers, but was delayed.  The next year he fell under political criticism from the Soviet government and was sentenced to exile in the Kazakh SSR; he worked there at the Kazakh Veterinary-Zootechnical Institute and died of a stroke two years later (As Bill Barry says, "I am not making this up.")
In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg. Bedford's paper also stated that human spermatozoa would not even attach to the zona surface of non-hominoid primates (baboon, rhesus monkey, and squirrel monkey), concluding that although the specificity of human spermatozoa is not confined to man alone, it probably is restricted to the Hominoidea.
"In 2006, research suggested that after the last common ancester between humans and apes converged into two distinct lineages, inter-lineage sex was still sufficiently common that it produced fertile hybrids for around 1.2 million years after the initial split. However, despite speculation, no case of a human-chimpanzee cross has ever been confirmed to exist."

OK, so there aren't any human-chimp hybrids around, but that can't stop me from posting more images of what they could look like if the mating had been successful. Here are three such images: