Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bridging the Gap Between Humans and Chimps

Everyone knows that chimpanzees are the closest genetic match of all the other animal species in the world. Scientists say our DNA is similar up to 95%. That is a lot of matching. However, in that 5% of mismatch there can be very important differences. You may think how different can 5% be, but just look at yourself. Do you have hair all over your body? Are you easily able to use your feet to grab things (like they were a second pair of hands)? Are you only 4 ft  tall? If you answered yes, then you may be a chimp or the thing that I want to discuss in this post, a humanzee.

The humanzee is a theoretical creature that is a hybrid human and a chimpanzee. Because humans and chimps are two different species, the offspring produced would be a mule (incapable of reproduction). However, the similarities between the two species genetically could theoretically make this happen. There is only one way to find out though.

Now I won't even pretend to know what benefit scientifically could come from the offspring of a human and a chimp, but I'm sure there is potential. Every scientific frontier has some potential benefit whether it is obvious or not. And of course, the practice of producing such an animal is highly unethical. But why?

I'm sure there are a few people on this planet that would jump at the chance to mate with a monkey (not just for the fetish reasons). In any case, who says there has to be actual sexual contact. Technology today is phenomenal and all it would take is a gamete from a human and the opposite gamete from a chimpanzee. That is a simple donation and could be kept completely anonymous. What is it about this process that is so undesirable to society? And make no mistake, I have no inclination to be the test subject, but why is this?

If our actions are controlled by our thoughts which come from the brain, and our brain patterns are determined by our DNA, then there must be something in our DNA that prevents (most of the time) one species from copulating with another. I would find it quite interesting if there was something hard-wired in us that prevents me from finding a dog as attractive and wanting to mate with it. The thought alone makes me disgusted, but there must be something there.

For some reason I also find it disturbing of the thought that someone would even donate an egg or sperm to be combined with a chimp egg/sperm even though there is no sexual act involved. I'm sure many of you out there would also find it disturbing as well. And this disturbing feeling I find quite interesting to have. Why is it natural for two species to procreate, but unnatural for two different species to try? If evolution is just the advancement of genetic material how is one act different than the other?

It has to be different, but from a purely technical standpoint why is it different and how? If I took two pieces of DNA and combined them I would get a new organisms DNA. That's all life is. Why would two genomes from the same species be different from two genomes from differing species? Why would they not result in the same outcome?

The answer for that last question is that they don't. If two adults have a child more than likely that child would be healthy and could lead a long life which in turn would advance the genetic code. If two adults from different species (say a human and a chimp) mate their child would be full of genetic flaws and could possibly die instantly, it may not even be possible. It seems that on the most fundamental level of existence (genetic material) this knowledge exists.

How could our DNA know that if mixed with another species' DNA there would be fatal errors in the resulting genome? DNA doesn't talk, it doesn't smell, it doesn't do anything but store information. But yet it knows and we also know. And that could be why we/I find it repulsive to think about a chimp/human hybrid.

Is a humanzee possible? Right now we don't know because no one has tried to make one. Theoretically it could be possible and it could be an interesting experiment which could reveal a lot about our own genetic makeup. But there is something in our DNA that makes it so we may never try to tackle a problem of this nature. Our DNA knows something that we don't and perhaps we should keep it that way.

Or perhaps not...

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