Published December 1, 2006
In the contest for oddest pronouncement in a State of the Union address, high marks should go to President Bush’s call last January for a national ban on “creating human-animal hybrids.” Fortunately, the modern biotech laboratory does not yet resemble H.G. Wells’s island of Dr. Moreau, that fictional place where an exiled scientist blends man and beast by vivisection. Not even our most skillful, least scrupulous genetic engineers can manufacture humanzees to provide spare parts or serve as semi-skilled labor. We are not yet so talented or so depraved.
Yet the President’s call to action did not come out of nowhere. If it seemed strange, that is only because we live in genuinely strange times. In China and Britain, scientists are creating cloned man-animal embryos using rabbit eggs and human DNA. In the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, human neural stem cells are being inserted into monkey brains. At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, researchers have produced pigs with hybrid pig-human blood cells, demonstrating the possibility of genetic fusion between man and the lower animals.