Human genetic engineering. CRISPR/cas9 DNA editing of humans. What is the current status? What are the benefits and risks? Including three case studies of DIY Human genetic enhancement and two documentary tips!

By the way, I have written an extensive article about this topic: what is Human enhancement, and also about technologies (like drugs), examplesethicsdebatemovies, and books.

Human Genetic Enhancement

Genetic modification is a method that has increasingly been in the media in recent years. It is also known as genetic manipulation or genetic engineering. With CRISPR/cas9 technology, we can change the building-blocks or operating systems of an organism’s life. Human Genetic Enhancement includes human, animal, plant, bacteria, or virus.

On my Youtube Channel I made a video about human genetic enhancement. Watch the video:

My video about human genetic enhancement

DIY genetic enhancement

In this article, I write about human guinea pigs, like Josiah Zayner. Josiah did CRISPR on himself to grow his muscles. Muscle mass should be more of an aesthetic goal. However, some people think of do-it-yourself genetic modification as the ultimate way to improve their health. That’s also true for Tristan Roberts. He was diagnosed with HIV and became frustrated with the daily medication regime.

Some time ago, scientists published research on a particular genetic mutation existing to protect people from HIV. That’s possible because the body can produce antibodies against HIV, called N6. Roberts’s idea was to genetically modify himself so that his stomach fat cells began generating N6 themselves.

I interviewed him on my YouTube channel. Feel free to check out the interview:

My interview with Tristan Roberts

Outline

This list is the outline of the article:

  1. Genetics: DNA, RNA, Chromosomes, etc.
  2. Genetic modification: techniques like CRISPR/cas9.
  3. Methods: 5x, with 3 case studies (Josiah Zayner, Tristan Roberts and Jiankui He)
  4. Artificial Selection: the destiny of our species?
  5. Future of human genetic engineering.
  6. Chimeras and xenotransplantation: special applications of genetic engineering.

Furthermore, I have written a section with the best documentaries and a reading list. You can find more information if you want to hire me for a keynote, webinar, or consultancy on this topic.

Enjoy reading the article!


1. Genetics

Genetics, as the name implies, is all about genes. To recap its essence: almost every cell in our body contains 3.2 billion base pairs. These base pairs consist of AC and TG molecules, and they intertwine in the form of a double helix.

The shape of the double helix is now considered an iconic image for DNA. Francis Crick, James Watson, and Rosalind Franklin discovered it. DNA contains inbred information. In human biological reproduction, you get half of your DNA from your father and the other half from your mother.

Chromosomes

The base pairs consist of 23 chromosomes. They construct about 25,000 genes in total. Moreover, each gene contains a DNA code for a particular function or characteristic. For example, the DNA sequence in the HERC2-gene determines the eye color [link at the bottom].

RNA

Because of the double helix structure, the DNA code can transform into either new DNA or RNA. The best-known form of RNA is “messenger RNA”. The mRNA molecule is a significant link in the transcription or reading of the genetic code. Consequently, the ribosome reads the mRNA outside of the cell nucleus. Secondly, the ribosome starts to build one of the twenty possible amino acids.

The amino acids form proteins. Moreover, it performs all kinds of cell functions, such as building, maintaining, decomposing, communicating tissue. It also includes transporting amino acids to other cells and more. This entire process, DNA to producing proteins, is the ‘Central Dogma’ of molecular biology.

Phenotype

The genotype is the collection of genetic or inherited information. Conversely, the phenotype is the composite of the organism’s observable characteristics. In an interview with the Flemish comedian and science journalist Lieven Scheire, he gave the following example:

‘If you are curious about the genotype influence on the phenotype, look at identical twins. You could say that what they have in common in appearance and behavior is encoded in their DNA.’

If you are curious about the genotype influence on the phenotype, look at identical twins.

Lieven Scheire (comedian and presenter)

Geneticists roughly distinguish three factors that influence a person’s characteristics.

  • Genes
  • The shared family environment
  • Non-shared environmental factors outside of the family (such as school, friends, and unique experiences)

The influence of these factors varies enormously on our characteristics. For example, my gender depends entirely on my genes, whereas it does not affect my Dutch-speaking ability.

Mapping DNA

With the completion of the Human Genome (HGP) project in 2003, expectations were high. The HGP intended to map the entire human genome. Subsequently, President Clinton (USA) and Prime Minister Blair (UK) declared it ‘the book of life.’

However, it was challenging to identify physical traits, diseases, intelligence, speed, and empathy within the DNA code. Scientists were amazed by the number of genes per individual. Presently, they estimate the total number of genes between twenty to twenty-five thousand, similar to a mouse [link at the bottom].

Epigenetics

How come humans are more complex than mice, but the number of genes is approximately the same? One reason for this is probably the additional layer of code on top of our DNA. It is the field of study that looks into this is called epigenetics.

To sum up: gene expression depends primarily on the cell environment. It is on a higher level of abstraction and the conditions in which the organism lives.

DNA sequencing

Research into the relationship between the genotype (the DNA code) and the phenotype focuses on DNA sequencing. This focus means that the DNA is analyzed and converted into the code of AC and TG base pairs. Then, researchers look at the phenotypes. Does the selected genetic code influence an organism’s characteristics?

Let’s look at an example of the HERC2 gene, which occurs in humans [link at the bottom]. The layer of code on this gene, the so-called SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphism), has a significant influence on your eye color. Still, it is lesser on, for example, hair color and whether or not you get sunburned easily.

China

Scientists all over the world are researching these processes and their relationships. The Chinese government and companies are very active in this field. Bregtje van der Haak captured this research very well in the documentary ‘DNA Dreams.’

Part of documentary DNA Dreams

The company Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) intends to examine every organism genetically. Furthermore, the institute is also looking specifically for the genes that influence positive characteristics like intelligence. In the documentary, you can see how young children undergo all kinds of IQ tests at the company. Moreover, how BGI compares the results with the child’s DNA?


2. Genetic modification of humans

Genetic modification, genetic engineering, or genetic manipulation take things a step further than just examining and analyzing DNA.

When I give a keynote or webinar, I often explain that modifying DNA is something humans have been doing for a long time. Think, for example, of how we first started breeding plants and breeding animals. Of course, these methods were initially very unrefined. There was a large degree of unreliability. After all, at that time, we did not know how the underlying DNA code appeared.

Modifying DNA in a lab is accurate and precise. A scientific breakthrough was due to the work of Cohen and Boyer in 1973. Recombinant DNA refers to artificially combining DNA from multiple sources. In the past few decades, scientists developed additional methods. These include TALEN (Transcription activator-like effector nucleases) and Zinc finger nuclease.

CRISPR

The principal breakthrough took place in 2014 when Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier presented their discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 in Science Magazine [link at the bottom]. In 2020, they won the Nobel Prize for their research.

Compared to TALEN and Zinc finger nuclease, CRISPR/Cas9 is much cheaper, faster, and more effective. Subsequently, the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 was a massive step for the scientific community. They quickly applied it in research on crops, animals, and humans.

This method reminds us of the series Orphan Black. That’s the picture at the top of this article. Watch this trailer if you have not seen this series yet:

Orphan Black trailer season 1

Modifying human DNA

DNA modification in humans is beneficial for the healthcare sector. A few examples are listed below. However, they did not use the CRISPR/cas9 technique in all of these instances:

  • Genetically modifying the white blood cells of leukemia patients to better target and destroy cancer cells. In 2011, the American Emily Whitehead was the first to be successfully treated using this technique [link at the bottom];
  • In 2017, a blind British patient got a cure after DNA modification of the retina [link at the bottom];
  • Several biotechnology start-ups work on gene therapies to treat infectious diseases, inherent diseases, and HIV [link at the bottom].

The majority of research using genetic modification techniques concerns crops, bacteria, and smaller organisms. There are high expectations for this field. Consequently, humans can be in charge of biology. The most exciting part is the possibility to apply these techniques to ourselves as well. What opportunities do we have there?


3. Methods

Undoubtedly, in the future, we (humans) will want to enhance and modify ourselves. The most pressing question, which I will return to later when I discuss the ethical implications, is to which extent we will want to do so. Do we restrict the use of these techniques to, for example, when a patient’s health is at stake? Or will they soon be available to everyone (commercially)? I have roughly divided genetic modification in humans into the following categories:

  • A. Somatic modification (editing people’s DNA)
  • B. Germline modification (DNA modification in embryos, the so-called ‘designer’ babies)
  • C. Epigenetic programming
  • D. Modification of intestinal flora (microbiota)
  • E. Virome

I’ll explain these categories below and conclude by looking at their proven efficacy. Scientists use Categories A and B in medical and biological research. However, C, D, and E are much more speculative and hardly proven (as of now).


A. Somatic modification

‘Soma’ is a Greek word for ‘the body.’ Somatic modification refers to genetically modifying the body. The British patient I mentioned before, with an eye impairment, is an excellent example of this. In his case, the genes responsible for maintaining the light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye missed half of their DNA code. Researchers were able to reprogram the genes in a lab and then insert them in the right place, behind the eye, using a virus.

The experimental CRISPR/Cas9 procedures, currently used to treat leukemia patients, use a similar method. They administer Blood, and the blood cells are genetically modified. Then, the patient’s body receives the modified Blood.

Delivering genes

As both examples illustrate, the greatest challenge is to deliver the modified genes or cells to the right place in the body. We are still a long way from a scenario where you can place a syringe of modified cells in your arm. Subsequently, the modifications arrive at the selected organs, cells, and DNA.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop some people from experimenting on themselves with these methods.

CRISPR biohackers

People who genetically modify themselves are also called biohackers. I think of the term ‘biohacking’ as a broader concept. That’s why I’ll refer to people who experiment with genetic modification on themselves as ‘CRISPR biohackers’ for now.

  • Josiah Zayner
  • Tristan Roberts

Two other well-known biohackers, discussed in my biohacking article, are Brian Hanley and Lizz Parish.

Josiah Zayner

Josiah Zayner created quite a controversy at the end of 2017 when he injected himself with modified cells. In particular, his action caused a great deal of commotion. He broadcasted it live on a Facebook video. His goal was to grow extra muscle mass [link at the bottom]. He wanted to gain muscle mass by suppressing the gene activity that codes for the muscle growth inhibitor myostatin.

Here is an interview with Joziah:

Interview with Josiah Zayner about DIY Biohacking

B. Germline modification

Germline Modification refers to a genetic material alteration in the embryonic state, the sperm, or the egg cell. The essential difference compared to Somatic Modification is that DNA changes pass onto the next generation. Consequently, such modifications are not limited to an individual but also extend to the offspring.

This type of treatment is in combination with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). It means that scientists modify the embryo in the laboratory and then insert it into the uterus. In 2017, such treatment took place in England, which led to newspaper headlines saying that a three-parent child had been born [link at the bottom].

Replacing embryo DNA

During the treatment, they replaced the mother’s mitochondrial DNA in the embryo with another woman. The mitochondria in the cell are responsible for energy supply. It has a particular DNA and transfers exclusively by the mother. Moreover, in the scenario in England, the mother had a hereditary mutation in her mitochondrial DNA. Hence, by replacing this in the laboratory, her child was relieved of this disorder.

Lulu and Nana controversy

The treatment in England that I described in the previous paragraph was carefully discussed, debated in politics, and enshrined in legislation. The same does not apply to the best-known case (so far) of germline modification. The doubted credit is to the Chinese scientist Jiankui He [link at the bottom].

In the autumn of 2018, he announced he had given birth to two babies Lulu and Nana, genetically modified as embryos. The treatment aimed to change the CCR5 gene, which would make the children resistant to HIV. The father of both children was a carrier of the virus.

Watch the announcement of Jiankui He:

Jiankui He about Lulu and Nana

CCR5 gene

There were problems with the procedure by He Jiankui.

  • The procedure was not permissible by law
  • Permission of the parents was granted or not
  • The genetic cut did not go well

Church’s overview was, therefore, inclusive of the following. The CCR5 mutation leads to an increased risk of contracting the West Nile virus. [link at the bottom]

Later, however, stories appeared that this particular gene also influences one’s cognitive capabilities [link at the bottom]. Nonetheless, there’s certainly a moral, ethical, and political discussion about genetic modification. They use it for enhancement purposes. More on that later.

Reproduction

The example of Lulu and Nana illustrates the rapid pace at which reproductive technology is developing. I spoke about this in a podcast with professor Sjoerd Repping of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

For example, there are already discussions about making egg cells from skin cells. Moreover, making it possible for two men to play genetic father and genetic mother [link at the bottom].

During the interview, he talked about the revolution we experienced concerning Vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is a fertility treatment in which fertilization takes place outside the body. Another term for this is test-tube fertilization.

The first treatment using this technique in the Netherlands took place in 1980, but nowadays, an average of one child in every school class was born in this way. In the eighties, there was a big commotion about this method. After all, having a baby was a gift from God. Recently, the use of IVF is hardly a topic of discussion. Could the same apply to the genetic modification of embryos in the future?

Programming superhumans

Politicians and bioethicists all over the world were tumbling over each other to condemn Jiankui He’s action. They argued that the modifications were sloppy. Moreover, he didn’t have permission from the government or his research institute. They perceived much easier ways to stop HIV from passing onto future generations [link at the bottom].

Another reason for the commotion, however, may stem from a primary human reaction: jealousy. Professor Robert Zwijnenberg of Leiden University mentioned that Harvard University (Boston, United States) is modifying sperm cells to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s [link at the bottom].

The reactions to Jiankui news are probably affected by a twinge of envy. It is no coincidence that there seems to be an arms race going on between China and the United States concerning genetics and genetic modification. More about that later.

George Church

Professor George Church is a prominent scientist and pioneer in the field of genetics and genetic modification. Halfway through 2019, he published a list of several genes that lead to improved human traits in the correct mutation [link at the bottom].

  • LRP5: stronger bones;
  • MSTN: larger muscles;
  • FAAH-OUT: lower sensitivity to pain;
  • PCSK9: better resistance to cardiovascular disease;
  • GRIN2B: memory improvement;
  • BDKRB2: being able to hold the breath for a long time;

Some genes in his list have remarkable qualities, for instance, ABCC11. A mutation on this gene links to the production of less sweat. He also mentions the adverse effects of some genes. The variation on PCSK9 with the advantage of better resistance to cardiovascular diseases can also lead to an increased risk of diabetes.

In short, you will have to make trade-offs here.

Interview Eben Kirksey

The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans is a book written by Eben Kirksey. In this interview we talk about the first genetically engineered babies Lulu and Nana, the scientist Jianku He, the work of biohackers, and much more.

Watch the interview here or on my YouTube Channel:

Interview with Eben Kirksey

C. Epigenetic programming

According to professor Michael Bess, author of the book Make Way for the Superhumans, it is unlikely that germline modification will be used much [link at the bottom]. That’s because it raises all kinds of moral issues regarding the autonomy of the unborn child. With this in mind, he expects more from so-called epigenetic programming.

Changing the DNA of the embryo raises many moral issues regarding the autonomy of the unborn child.

Professor Michael Bess

Epigenetics is like a piano. Michael Bess: ‘DNA can compare to the piano. But the pianist plays the piano. You get a different melody and rhythm, depending on which keys the pianist plays. Now that’s epigenetics.’ Epigenetics is a layer that lies on top of the DNA and influences DNA expression.

In the future, scientists will probably find out more and more about the effects of epigenetics and, in due time, how to influence them. Although speculative, this is also called epigenetic programming. Perhaps a scenario would arise where people are allowed to make (epi)genetic changes at a certain age, for example, when reaching the age of being a legal adult.


D. Gut flora

In the book Evolving Ourselves, Enriquez and Gullans write about the ‘Omen’ model. This model includes:

  • Genome (DNA)
  • Epigenome (epigenetics)
  • Microbiome
  • Virome

The microbiome stands for the composition of the intestinal flora [link at the bottom].

Your intestinal flora consists of bacteria (about 700 to 1,000 strains), yeasts, viruses, and parasites. Each person’s intestinal flora is unique – as unique as a fingerprint. These microorganisms don’t just live in your gut; they are found on all of our body’s surfaces and form an ecosystem of their own everywhere. It is comparable to a jungle: a massive forest area with plants, herbivores, and carnivores.

Nonetheless, it is a crowded jungle. There are ten times more bacteria than cells in your body. Your intestinal flora weighs an average of 2.5 to 3 kilos. Besides, it contains 360 times more DNA than the rest of your body. Consequently, some scientists say that humans are carriers of bacteria. But what kind of influence do these bacteria have, and how do they work?

Role of intestinal flora

The intestinal flora breaks down molecules from the food we eat and produces biologically significant molecules useful to our bodies. Short-chain fatty acids, for instance, serve as a signaling agent for the metabolism. The bacteria also produce vitamins (K, B12, and folic acid) and amino acids.

The intestinal flora also plays a vital role in maintaining your immune system. Besides, more knowledge has become available in recent years. It shows that the intestinal flora role is much impressive than we initially thought.

At the beginning of 2019, the Catholic University of Leuven published a study. It demonstrated two types of intestinal bacteria, Dialister and Coprococcus. These types occur less frequently in people who report that they are depressed [link at the bottom]. The researchers haven’t made up their minds about this. Moreover, people with depression could eat differently; therefore, a different intestinal flora.

I also had my microbiome tested. Luckily I seemed to have enough Dialister and Coprococcus bacteria!

Gut flora transportation

The intestinal flora has a massive influence on our health (especially in chronic conditions, from obesity to rheumatism and depression). Besides, their experts have different opinions about the degree of this influence and a causal link. However, they treated multiple patients successfully with intestinal flora transplants.

The operation is simple: the patient receives part of the intestinal flora from a healthy donor. The donor can also be the patient himself. For example, when the intestinal flora is stored before the patient starts a heavy antibiotic treatment. In the Netherlands, they use this technique for particular medical situations. Therefore, patients often have to go into the alternative circuit or abroad, like the UK.

DIY transplantations

I mentioned Josiah Zayner when I described how he applied genetic modification on himself. Josiah went one step further. In 2016, he prepared his intervention, explained in an extensive article on The Verge [link at the bottom]. He collected the feces of a (healthy) friend to adjust the composition of his intestinal bacteria.

It remains somewhat unclear whether – and if so, to what extent – it has helped him. Still, he has noticed some other effects. For example, after the transplantation, he is much more inclined to sweets. Keep in mind; he never had such a sweet tooth before.

He did not immediately report massive improvements (and it seems a bit gross to me). Still, I wouldn’t be quick to have such an operation. However, I do try to keep my intestinal flora in excellent condition by eating well:

  • Enough fiber from vegetables and whole-grain products
  • Fermented food such as kefir and sauerkraut
  • Occasionally special supplements in the form of pro and prebiotics

E. Virome

The human virome consists of all viruses in and on the body. Compared to the microbiome, the virome constitutes an additional step in the order of magnitude. As per estimates, the virome consists of 380 trillion viruses [link at the bottom]. The vast majority of the virome consists of bacteriophages. A bacteriophage (‘phage’ for short) is a small virus that only infects a specific bacterium.

Viruses are not living organisms, unlike bacteria. That’s because a virus is a piece of floating DNA. The only purpose of the virus is to inject itself into a bacterium, then duplicate and spread. Because of this mechanism, viruses are often used in molecular biology to introduce foreign DNA into bacteria.

Bacteriophages

Another technique currently studied is the use of bacteriophages as an alternative to antibiotics in bacterial infections. Specific bacteriophages can then infect and destroy the bacteria. Subsequently, bacteria cannot become resistant to bacteriophages by mutation because the phages also mutate themselves. This method is the so-called evolutionary arms race.

At the moment, little is available about how all of the different viruses in our bodies work. We do know, however, that there is no point in destroying all viruses. Although viruses have a terrible reputation, think of Ebola and Dengue, for instance. They also play a vital role in symbiosis with bacteria in and around the body.

Besides, we know less about the effects of viruses in the body than the microbiome. Especially in the following:

  • Combination with bacteria
  • The epigenome
  • The genome
  • Situational factors
  • Nutrition and lifestyle.

Nevertheless, I do expect that as we learn more about the virome. We will, consequently, see other uses of bacteriophages in the future. Not just in the healthcare sector, e.g., as an alternative to antibiotics, but also as a method to keep the microbiome condition (and the body health) in order.


4. Artificial selection?

It is possible to replace natural with artificial. The development has been going on for some time but is now becoming more focused and specific. In some cases, this is reasonable. For example, there are (hereditary) disorders caused by a mutation of one gene. These include Huntington’s disease, sickle cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis. The social consensus at the moment is that it is excellent to use CRISPR / cas9 for this (if safe).

Human Genetic improvement

It is different when we decide to start using this technology to remedy conditions that are not life-threatening. Think of changing the eye color, improving intelligence, or making sure that you do not become bald. It becomes even more exciting when you think of social intervention: switching off the genes related to alcoholism or violence.

Again, that is the difference between healing and improving. Sometimes that is a gray area, for example, body height. Footballer Lionel Messi had injections of human growth hormone from an early age, for instance, to help his body grow. [link at the bottom].

Is that healing or improving?


5. Future genetic improvement

A common mechanism within human enhancement is that a method is initially developed in (medical) science to help patients. The next step is to use non-patients to improve one’s self.

The question is whether this also plays a role in the editing of genes. Scientific progress continues to help patients (or their future offspring) with a genetic disorder. The grey area is to determine when there is healing or an improvement. Take the earlier example of the height of Lionel Messi. Is changing genes so that your child becomes taller a form of healing or improving?

These questions are challenging to answer unambiguously. As I have argued before, the answers we provide are time-dependent and culturally determined. You can read more about these types of questions in my article about human enhancement ethics.

Organoids

An exciting application at the cutting edge of lower medicine and biotechnology is the cultivation of mini-organs or organoids. A personal mini-version of an organ is made based on skin cells to test whether it is working or not.

This method has already been used successfully by the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht. They tested whether a cure for cystic fibrosis would work in a boy or not. This procedure turned out to be the case with the mini-organ and later also with the treatment. Since it is a risky or expensive treatment, it can be a godsend to make a test model for testing.

Clones

Clones are genetically identical copies of an organism. Besides, there are two techniques for human cloning: embryo cleavage and nuclear transfer.

  • Embryo bifurcation is a primitive form of cloning where a fertilized egg splits. This separation sometimes is natural because that is how identical twins or multiples arise.
  • Cell nucleus transfer is a more advanced cloning technique. This process removes the cell nucleus from a body cell of an existing person. Hence, transplanted into an egg without the Nucleus. This egg can develop into an embryo in the test tube and after implantation in the uterus. Koops writes in De Maakbare Mens that the clone is entirely genetically identical. It is because the mitochondrial DNA outside the cell nucleus comes from the owner.

Function cloning

Furthermore, cloning has two functions. In therapeutic cloning, cloned embryos or cells are for medical research or therapy. The clones are not implanted and do not grow into a fully grown organism. Reproductive cloning does develop cloned cells.

Successfully, since the iconic sheep Dolly in 1996, cloning was completed on Numerous species. For a long time, this was not possible in primates until two macaques were cloned by Chinese researchers in early 2018 [link at the bottom]. These figures show that this is not yet an infallible process. The scientists needed 63 surrogate mothers and 417 eggs. Still, it resulted in only six pregnancies.

Due to such flight error probabilities, experts do not expect human cloning to take place. Regular reproduction is much comfortable, safer, and more ethical. Besides, a human clone is not a copy of the original, best seen in identical twins. Despite the biological similarities, they are two individuals. As an individual, you become powerful through your genes, but also your environment.

Movie The Island

A scenario from the science-fiction film The Island from 2005 does not seem realistic [link below]. In that movie, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, clones were on an island for their organs. If the original person needs an organ, they use the clone.

Other fictional works exploring the concept of cloning:

  • Book Brave New World (imposed by the government)
  • Book The Boys from Brazil (a clone of Hitler in the jungles of Brazil)
  • In the film Replicas (a bioscientist loses his family and decides to clone them)

Regulations

According to the Center for Genomics and Society, cloning is prohibited in 46 countries [link at the bottom]. Reproductive cloning is illegal in 32 countries. Therefore, those countries use clones for therapeutic purposes. For instance, they clone human cells for organs or medical research.

Trailer The Boys from Brazil

6. Chimera

A specific application of genetics and biotechnology is chimeras. A chimera is a cross between two organisms. This hybrid is different from crossing organisms, such as:

  • A mule (a baby of a donkey stallion and a horse mare)
  • Another mule (a baby of a horse stallion and a mare).

In a cross, all cells contain the same DNA. However, a chimera has the DNA of one organism and the other.

The chimera also appeared in Greek mythology, although it was written slightly differently (as Chimaera). It was an animal that was put together by humans. They pictured the chimera with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail.

Human monkey embryo

Although chimeras with human elements still seem far-fetched, significant developments are taking place in scientific research. For example, the Japanese government broadened the rules in 2019 [link at the bottom].

The idea is once again strictly for medical research. For example, it is to cultivate human brain cells in an animal’s brain or human organs placement in an animal.

Fundamentally, scientists are curious about molecular biology and the interaction between various organisms’ cells. For example, they announced in 2019 that scientists in China had created an embryo made up of cells from a human and a monkey [link at the bottom].

Xenotransplantation

Under the term xenotransplantation, they investigate whether it is possible to grow a liver, kidney, heart, or even lungs in sheep or pigs [link at the bottom]. Pigs are certainly an excellent candidate for such interventions since this species is genetically almost identical to humans [link at the bottom].

When the technology is ready, the same moral and social questions play a role here, as I have outlined earlier. What if companies can make livers that can break down alcohol even better? How about lungs with extra capacity and a heart that can effectively spread this extra oxygen to the muscles?


Bonus: what are the best documentaries about this topic?

Best documentaries

What are the best documentaries about human genetic engineering? I like Human Nature and the series Unnatural Selection. You can find both on Netflix.

The documentary Human Nature is about the discovery and applications of CRISPR/cas9.

This documentary “Human Nature” explains the discovery and applications of CRISPR/cas9.

The documentary series Unnatural Selection is about biohackers applying genetic modification on themselves:

Documentary series Unnatural Selection

If you have another documentary or film tip, please leave a comment down below!


Hire me!

Do you want to know more about human enhancement?

Please contact me if you have any questions! Like if you want to invite me to give a lecture, presentation, or webinar at your company, at your congress, symposium, or meeting.

Or if you want to book a session with me as an expert consultant in this area.


Reading list

I previously wrote these related articles about human enhancement:

These are the external links:


How do you view the genetic engineering of humans? Leave a comment!