It sounds like something you might hear in a nightmarish sci-fi film.
Scientists in New York have created half human-half chicken embryos in what some have described as ‘sick’ and ‘disturbing’ experiments.
Researchers hope that by transplanting human stem cells onto newly-formed chicken embryos they can find out more about how cells transform into fetuses.
The findings could lead to a whole host of new treatments for developmental disorders, they believe – but it’s not without criticism.
The scientific breakthrough has been met with repulsion among some people online.
Among those to express their disgust was Twitter user EricHedean, who simply said: ‘This is SICK!!’
BernieForTheGreaterGood added: ‘For real. That’s some sick stuff, no excuses when there are supercomputers to do molecular level research.’
Ashley said: ‘Extremely scary and Super disturbing!!’
It may sound like something from science fiction but researchers have created a strange half human-half chicken abomination in the lab. They combined artificial human embryo cells (pictured) with their avian counterparts to create the hybrid cluster of organic matter
The research was lead by a team of scientists under the direction of Ali Brivanlou at Rockerfeller University in New York.
Scientists already know that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any of the body’s specialised cell types: from bone and brain to lung and liver.
They also know that special groups of cells, found in amphibian and fish embryos, play a crucial role in shaping their early developmental structures.
These groups, called ‘organisers’, give off molecular signals that direct cells to grow and develop in specific ways.
When an organiser is transplanted from one embryo to another, it spurs its new host to undertake cell specialisation. Due to limits on experimentation on human embryos scientists did not know until now if a similar organiser existed in humans (pictured)
WHAT ARE INTERNATIONAL LAWS ON USING HUMAN EMBRYOS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH?
Since 1984, the European Union has provided funding for scientific research through a series of framework programs for research and technological development.
This include providing funding for research using embryonic stem cells as well as a human embryonic stem cell registery, which began operations in April 2007 in order to make more efficient use of pre-existing embryonic stem cell lines.
More recently, a legal battle over whether stem cell techniques can be patented may alter the research landscape, as the removal of the legal protections provided by the patent system might greatly dampen incentives for stem cell research in the EU
In the UK, the law states that the use of embryos in stem cell research can only be carried out with authority from the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA).
Licences are only granted if the HFEA is satisfied that any proposed use of embryos is absolutely necessary for the purposes of the research.
Research is allowed only in the following conditions:
- To promote advances in the treatment of infertility
- To increase knowledge about the causes of congenital disease
- To increase knowledge about the causes of miscarriages.
- To develop more effective techniques of contraception.
- To develop methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities.
- To increase knowledge about the development of embryos.
- To increase knowledge about serious disease.
- To enable any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease.
State laws regarding embryonic stem cells vary widely, with some restricting their use and others permitting certain activities.
Approaches to stem cell research policy range from statutes in eight states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York— which encourage embryonic stem cell research, to South Dakota’s law, which strictly forbids research on embryos regardless of their source.
States that specifically permit embryonic stem cell research have established guidelines for scientists such as consent requirements and approval and review processes for projects.
In Massachusetts, for example, experiments can be performed on embryos that have not experienced more than 14 days of development.
When an organiser is transplanted from one embryo to another, it spurs its new host to produce a secondary spinal column and central nervous system, complete with spinal cord and brain.
Due to the ethical guidelines that limit experimentation on human embryos, however, they did not know if a similar organiser existed in humans.
In Massachusetts, for example, experiments can be performed on embryos that have not experienced more than 14 days of development. This is around the time organiser cells begin to form.
To get around this, Dr Brivanlou’s team grew artificial human embryos from stem cells which they transplanted into chicken embryos.
As soon as they were introduced to their avian hosts, the human cells began laying the groundwork for a secondary spinal column and nervous system – an act that clearly announced the presence of a true human organiser.
As soon as they were introduced to their avian hosts, the human cells began laying the groundwork for a secondary spinal column and nervous system (pictured left to right) – an act that clearly announced the presence of a true human organiser cell
WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Stem cells are a basic type of cell that can change into another type of more specialized cell through a process known as differentiation.
Think of stem cells as a fresh ball of clay that can be shaped and morphed into any cell in the body.
They grow in embryos as embryonic stem cells, used to help the rapidly growing baby form the millions of different cell types it needs to grow before birth.
In adults they are used as repair cells, used to replace those we lose through damage or ageing.
Stem cells have been the focus of lots of medical research in recent decades because they can be used to grow almost any type of cell.
Dr Brivanlou said of the results: ‘Once you transplant the human organiser into a chicken embryo, the language it uses to instruct the bird cells to establish the brain and nervous system is exactly the same as the one used by amphibians and fish.
‘To my amazement, the graft not only survived, but actually gave rise to these beautifully organised structures.’
Also expressing their distaste online was Cassandra Fairbanks, who wrote on Twitter: ‘This isn’t okay. Scientists need to chill. They’re making human/chicken hybrid embryos.’
AntiFaFails added: ‘I am very much so against a race of superhuman chicken hybrids. I’m okay with whatever name the left has to call me because of that.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.
The scientific breakthrough has been met with repulsion among some people online. EricHedean simply said: ‘This is SICK!!’
BernieForTheGreaterGood said: ‘For real. That’s some sick stuff, no excuses when there are supercomputers to do molecular level research’
Cassandra Fairbanks wrote on Twitter: ‘This isn’t okay. Scientists need to chill. They’re making human/chicken hybrid embryos’
AntiFaFails added: ‘I am very much so against a race of superhuman chicken hybrids. I’m okay with whatever name the left has to call me because of that’
Among those to express their disgust was Ashley, who said on Twitter: ‘Extremely scary and Super disturbing!!’