Should we mix human and animal DNA?

Originally published at: Should we mix human and animal DNA? | Boing Boing


It’s difficult to draw the line between “human” and “animal” DNA because (a) humans are animals, and (b) we share almost all our DNA with other animals already. (There’s a 98.8% DNA overlap between humans and chimpanzees, for example, but also 85% between humans and mice, or around 60% between humans and fruit flies. To be fair, we currently understand very little of that DNA – there are large swathes, up to 90% or so, where we don’t yet know for sure what it does; it used to be called “junk DNA” because it doesn’t contain genes but that term is falling out of fashion as we continue to realise gradually that more and more of the “junk” actually does do something useful.)

This comes as no big surprise given that DNA is basically a cookbook for making proteins, and that most animals (including us) generally work along the same principles as far as metabolism etc. is concerned. Therefore many proteins that are useful to, say, a mouse are also likely to be useful for us when it comes to things like keeping one’s body going. (There’s also the matter of being related by a common ancestor way, way, back in the past.)

IMHO the ethical dilemma is really whether we should tweak our DNA (or for that matter any DNA), and if yes, under what circumstances, and by how much. Putting up an arbitrary dichotomy between “human DNA” and “animal DNA” isn’t very helpful in that respect.


I think the question is about the ethics of creating chimeras. Is it OK to give your offspring enhanced vision by substituting an eagle’s eye DNA into the space where human eye DNA would normally go? Is that child still human? Looks human, talks human, can probably even procreate like a human, but it’s got golden eyes that can see for miles. Should it have human rights? Should there be laws preventing the experimentation? What do we do with the offspring if one is created despite the laws?

Should we mix human and animal DNA?

Yes. Why do you ask?


Did Loverboy teach us nothing?


I have no idea if it would be good or bad but…

If it did happen and it went horribly wrong or really right improving our lives isn’t that just part of evolution?

We evolved, well I didn’t, but scientists have evolved into really smart people and come up with the ability to do things like this so that’s just evolution. Debating it and deciding not to do it would also be part of evolution.

But what do I know?


I’ll lay out my fear here.

95% Human. 5% pig. 100% Slave?

That’s my fear. That chimeras will be treated like livestock, that they will not have the full sets of human rights, and that people will be really, really racist to them.

I mean, Black people have been discriminated against for centuries, and were openly sold like livestock until not 200 years ago in the USA. Their civil rights have been routinely violated until… well, they are still being routinely violated. In other parts of the world things are still pretty horrible- it’s only been a few decades since Apartheid. And a Black person is completely, 100% human: just like people who are not Black. There is absolutely no scientific reason to think of a Black person as anything other than a person; and yet, we had centuries of racists demanding that the scientists find a way to dehumanize them; and some unethical scientists were quick to find absolute bullshit reasons.

The bottom line is- I don’t trust humanity, given an intelligent being who is mostly human but who is not 100% human- to not be absolutely horrible to those beings.


I dunno about mixing animal DNA per se - but the thumbnail of the video asks “Should we edit our DNA?”


As someone who suffers from post conception genetic mutation that affects a quarter of my body and allows it to make worthless tumors - I say hell yes. If somehow it could just, you know, not - that would be great!


Looking forward to a future where we can have wolf grandmas and grandpas.



But remember that our DNA is not everything that defines us, so how completely can we ever understand the net effects on an individual? Researchers are just beginning to uncover the links between our genome and our microbiome (all the native bacteria and viruses we contain and carry on us).


Exactly the same thing as it means now, unless your willingness to treat someone as human depends on their family background.

This question of what makes humans special has always been plagued by the same fundamental problem. It presupposes that, because I choose to see certain humans as special, there must be some objective reason to back up my views. But that’s pure question-begging. I already know where my prejudices come from, and it has nothing to do with science.

When we recognise “human” rights, we’re drawing an arbitrary line. That’s not necessarily a crime, since you have to draw a line somewhere – even vegans are arbitrarily deciding that a cow has more rights than a beet – but it’s dishonest to make up fake science to avoid responsibility for our choices.

Of course, people have a long history of doing exactly that, which is a big reason to be wary of germ-line DNA modification. Even the suspicion that such a thing has ever happened will cause some people to be stigmatised for life in future generations. Our medical technology might be there, but our moral technology is barely out of the middle ages.


I’m mixing my human and animal DNA, Right Now.


But do they call him Papasan the bridge builder?


Marilyn Monroe Laughing GIF


Isn’t that illegal in most states?


What could go wrong?



And for some reason this classic popped into my head. What could go wrong?


In Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality stories, the answer is clear: they will remain chattel and held in servitude as janitors, prostitutes, prison guards, and other positions humans will not or cannot be trusted to hold. Mind you, Cordwainer’s day job was writng for the CIA such classics as “Psychological Warfare,” so there may be subtext and propaganda mixed in, but in general such beings were slaughtered indiscriminately for being in the wrong place, falling in love with a human, being perceived as a threat to society, or just being no longer of use. If “The Ballad of lost C’Mel,” or Norstrilia doesn’t point this out clearly, then I’m misremembering them.

In the real world, I would hope we are decades away from being capable of convincing an ethics committee that such work should be allowed to proceeed beyond the embryo and cell culture stage. And, honestly, the most likely outcome would be further disparity between the haves and have-nots – eagle eyes are easily detected, but what about some extra mitochondria in the muscles, a large strong heart, and a few dozen extra IQ points for the wealthy? Maybe a bit of that being able to build muscles without exercise, which almost all other mammals possess? Or a quant with four brains to run the family finances?

No, we’re not ready for genetic engineering on ourselves. Breed a better cow so that milk and meat prices go down, or a chicken that lays more eggs, or fish that can digest the microplastics filling the ocean. When you can do that, and society isn’t screaming about the resultant “frankenfood” and filled with anti-GMO FUD, then we as a species might be ready. I’m not holding my breath.


@CongenitalOptimist : I was wondering when that reference would be pulled out.

That might take a few decades or even longer.
(I’d agree that humanity as a whole is probably not ready for it, but we could try starting with uplifting other species we co-habitat this rock with. )


Absolutely, it tastes great.