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March 26, 2007

Bioethics on the Lamb

Chimera I'm not sure which part of this story is more disturbing -- the potential for unpredictable moral and biological consequences, or the fact that the news appears to have been shared on a BBC program called "Animal Farm."

Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer.

Professor Esmail Zanjani, of the University of Nevada, has spent seven years and £5million perfecting the technique, which involves injecting adult human cells into a sheep's foetus.

Aside from the simple "ick" factor, which might at least be enough to cause us to think twice about this kind of brave new science, there seems to be a sort of "forgiveness is easier than permission" mindset in the foregoing of public discourse about such breakthroughs. Whatever the intentions, this is not just simple medicine.

Even if I hadn't seen a few too many sci-fi movies, the imagination does not have to strain to see that this is dangerous territory.

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