Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Finally, something that might take on those mutant ninja turtles

When I was a teenager they came out with a movie involving savage hybrid animal-people, which really struck a chord with me, because it reminded me of my high school. 

Inhuman treatment and cruel experimentation were part of my daily routine. "The Island of Doctor Moreau" was like somebody had brought a camera into my locker room, basically.

As a movie, it was laughable, the glued-on facial prosthetics fake-looking even for 1977, but for a teenager it was just another over-the-top cultural extravaganza that summer, like Elvis' death and the premier of "Star Wars." 

The book by H.G. Wells was written in the 19th Century, but the movie's outcome was still surprisingly in tune with the morality of the times—the mad scientist who played God was punished, his lab and his creatures burned up. The young, gorgeous couple escaped with their lives and some of their clothes. The moral was delivered.

Nearly 40 years later, a recent headline practically jumped out at me, Moreau-like, from my "trending news" sidebar on Facebook—"Scientists Create Human-Pig Embryos To Alleviate Transplant Organ Shortage." I picture H.G. Wells bonking his head on the inside of his casket as he tries to sit up and say "Guys, I was kidding."

This is real. Scientists have been creating "chimeras," animal-human hybrids, albeit only in their fetal form. Ultimately they want to raise pigs to grow a human pancreas or other in-demand organs which can then be transplanted into a human. 

It's technical, but it involves destroying certain pig cells and inserting human ones which then result in 95% pig and 5% human, kind of like what we already see in some voting districts. 

So you zap a pig embryo where its pancreas is supposed to develop, stick in human cells, implant the embryo in a mommy pig, and theoretically a piglet is born which will grow a human pancreas for later removal. It's so early in the testing, though, that scientists are not sure if the human cells will stay put down there. They might travel to the pig's brain, creating issues. Imagine craving the bacon right off yourself. Imagine "Charlotte's Web" as a Guillermo Del Toro movie. 

Understandably, public funding has been largely suspended in the U.S., with the exception of—get this—the Defense Department. I kid you not. The Department of Defense is helping fund this research, perhaps with an eye toward a future super weaponized smart-pig? We can only guess. 

Some weeks this stuff writes itself, people. 


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