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Stem Cell and Cybrid Controversy

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 27 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Stem Cell And Cybrid Controversy

If you imagine the concept of something that is partly human and partly comprised of another animal, then you will now be familiar with one of the common misconceptions about cybrids and the subsequent controversy around their creation and use.

Cybrids are the result of experiments that involve the fusion of human DNA with animal eggs that have been 'emptied.' A cybrid is actually a different type of embryo and differs from two other kinds known as chimeras and hybrids. It is still considered fully human – not animal, although it has been misrepresented through the use of grossly exaggerated images showing a half man, half animal creature. Usually, these images have been used to further a more extreme agenda against stem cell research. To understand the concept of cybrids, however, you need to be familiar with the all of the different kinds of experiments and the politics around each of them in Britain.

Creating A Cybrid

A chimera is an embryo that contains both human and animals cells while a hybrid is one that is created when a human egg is fertilised by the sperm from an animal or an animal egg is fertilised by human sperm. On the other hand, a cybrid is the fusion of DNA from a human with an animal egg that has essentially been 'emptied.' With a cybrid, the embryo is created when a human cell nucleus is inserted into an animal egg that has previously been emptied. These cybrids may soon even be exempt from a ban on research that involves other human-animal embryos, such as chimeras and hybrids. It is thought that cybrids can pave the way for improved knowledge and therapeutic treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

Controversy, Politics and Religion Around the use of Cybrids

With the ban on chimeras and hybrids, scientists have generally been the ones frustrated and angry because the ban has compromised new ways to conduct stem cell research. This new cybrid approach, however, may appease scientists but it leaves some members of the public and religious groups angry at what they consider meddling with human life. With the use of cybrids, an empty egg from an animal such as a cow would receive human DNA. Such human-animal embryos would actually be 99.9 percent human and far from being qualified as a hybrid or chimera. The term cybrid comes from it being a cytoplasmic hybrid and these cybrids would still be subject to stringent regulation despite being allowed for use in research. In this way, cybrids would still be regulated and must be created and used within specific parameters.

The lifting of a ban will help to relieve the frustration experienced by scientists and others in the research sector that feel their work has been at a standstill with many of the laws around stem cell research. The lifting of a ban would also result in less political and religious unrest than the lifting of bans on chimeras or hybrids, primarily because a cybrid only has approximately 0.1 percent of its DNA being from an animal. As such, a cybrid is for all purposes considered human. Still, there are those individuals who oppose stem cell research in this capacity and are adamant that even cybrid research should remain banned.

Future of the Cybrid Controversy

While the lifting of a ban on cybrid research may somewhat relax the challenges that scientists are experiencing when conducting stem cell research, there are still those people who oppose any mixing of animal and humans, even at such a miniscule level. The controversy is unlikely to die anytime soon but it is thought to be less significant and widespread than any lifting of a ban on hybrid or chimera creation. For now, most people can agree that we need to find treatments and cures to the devastating diseases such as diabetes, but how we will find these therapies remains a controversial pathway.

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