Really smart scientists at a couple big research universities are mixing people and pigs.
I have no doubt that their intentions are laudable. They want to save lives. They want to make the world a better place.
Read all about it in the National Geographic, which takes both people and pigs very seriously.
The science involved is likely beyond the reach of a liberal arts major like me. But the concept seems fairly simple. You remove a pig embryo from a sow, put in in a petri dish, inject it with some human cells, put it back in the sow and let it grow into a sort of hybrid pig (called a chimera) that has organs that can be harvested and transplanted into people.
You are probably as confused reading that last paragraph as I was writing it. The idea is that, for example, people and pigs have similar hearts. And with a little genetic manipulation, we can create human-ready pig hearts, which would be good news for people who need a heart transplant.
As a token nod to animal rights activists, I admit that this process isn’t as positive for the pig. But it isn’t any worse than being made into bacon or footballs.
It might not surprise you that despite some encouraging test results, scientists are a long way from producing organs in pigs that they can plug into humans. It is a challenge to get human cells to thrive in a pig – and the human body doesn’t naturally welcome a part-pig organ.
While scientists are excited by all this, some people of more ethical orientation aren’t sure mixing the genes of people and pigs is such a great idea. No, I don’t think we’ll suddenly have people walking around with curly tails or pigs learning to play video games.
But I’m thinking we might be on the edge of a slippery slope. If this organ-growing scheme works with pigs, why not chimps? What happens if you actually produce a conscious creature that isn’t entirely human?
Ridiculous? Perhaps. But a few years ago, putting a pig heart in a human was unthinkable. Now we want to create an assembly line.