Monday, June 6, 2016

Pork Chop Shop

Remember how George W. Bush once warned us about animal human hybrids and we all laughed and made fun of him because he was kind of...well I don't want to say stupid, but you know, stupid? Well it's possible that there might be some pig-people coming up.
Oh don't look so smug. Remember the WMD's? Yeah, thought so.
"Are you for goddamn kidding me?"
-Bebop, noted human/pig hybrid
Ok, and do you know how sometimes the only thing that can save a seriously ill person is an organ transplant and that viable organs aren't always available? Keep that in mind while I explain the horror show that some researchers from the University of California, Davis have cooked up. Step one: implant human organ cells into a pig embryo. Step two: wait for human-pig monster to mature. Step three: harvest organs. Step four: contemplate the soul-crushing implications of what you've wrought upon the world.

The researchers have replaced the pancreas cells in some pig embryos with human pancreas cells which should allow them to grow a human compatible organ. But they're not going to let them mature until they're sure that the pigs won't develop other human characteristics that would make us feel even ickier about harvesting their organs.
Because last thing we need is our organ
banks singing duets with Christin Chenoweth.
Click here to learn this one weird
trick that lets you meddle with
the very building blocks of life!
Ethical concerns aside, easy-peasy right? Yes. And that's part of what's freaking people out. It's not just the idea of chop-shoping living creatures, it's the ease with which we can hybridize humans and animals. The gene-editing technique the UC Davis team is using is called CRISPR and it works by introducing a specialized bit of bacterial DNA which can seek out specific gene segments and replace them with whatever you want. I'm probably (definitely) over-simplifying here, but scientists find it both super-exciting and kind of unnerving since, and I shit you not, it's available on the internet.

Aww, look, they're engineering
the Kwisatz Hederach. So adorbs!
On the one hand, holy shit, this sounds like PhotoShop for genes and could well lead us down the dark path towards a dystopian genocracy where those of us with un-modified DNA are ruled by an elite class of homo-superior cooked up in the basement with some kid's 'My First Genome Kit'.  On the other hand, holy shit, this is PhotoShop for genes and could not only solve the organ donor shortage, but might also let scientists just snip out genes that leave people predisposed to genetic conditions. Yup, it could be the cure for all diseases or the thing that dooms us as a species.

As for the squealing, half-human, unwilling organ donors UC Davis may one day be turning out, I  don't know. I mean, it sounds pretty horrible, just breeding these animals for spare parts, but I think I'd change my mind pretty quick if I needed a new liver. Thanks science, thanks for another confusing, morally ambiguous breakthrough.
Also, I kind of like carnitas, so I should probably just shut up.

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