Sunday, 6 January 2008

Planet of the Apes in the offing?

January 5, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Visakhapatnam, Dec 3: Super intelligent monkeys and tamed lions will become a reality soon, if scientists working on genetic engineering have they say.
Experts in stem cell technology and genetic engineering believe that the day is not far off when the Earth will be populated by monkeys with human brains and lions that simply “meow” without harming others.
“Looking beyond genes and genetic engineering” dominated the discussions among scientists attending the 95th Indian Science Congress, which opened in this port city on Thursday. Though the debate centered on genetic therapy to treat “incurable” diseases including cancer, there was also a talk on the “misuse” of this cutting-edge research programme by unscrupulous scientists to develop monkeys with human brains or humanlike monkeys.
Nobel laureate Dr Roger Kornberg says monkeys with human intelligence has almost become a reality but such creations will lead to debate on human ethics. “There are two sides of genetic engineering and stem cell technology. Good and bad. Use of the technology for therapeutic uses will result in saving the lives of millions. But a small misuse of the facility will lead to ethical issues,” he pointed out.
What’s all about this conceptualized human-monkey? It’s nothing but a reversal of the Darwin’s theory which believes that human beings have evolved from monkeys. If the researchers have their say, there will monkeys evolving virtually from the modern man. This can be achieved by injecting human brain cells into monkey brains or through transplantation of embryonic stem cells of a human embryo into the womb of a monkey. As the stem cells grow in the womb of a monkey, the resultant offspring will be a monkey with human intelligence, the scientists hope.
The concept of super monkeys gains significance in the backdrop of creation of genetically-engineered cats, by Korean scientists, which glows in the dark. The scientists have also created rats that have no “fear genes” in them and can roam freely in front of a cat. Work on “tamed lions” is going on clandestinely and if it succeeds, the big cats will be simply herbivorous or small carnivores.
While it is quite “easier” to create super monkeys with human qualities, the major ethical problem that crops up before society is should such creatures be considered “human subjects” or simply “intelligent animals”, he argues. If such creatures are considered human subjects then they will have to be protected by ethical guidelines that govern research on human beings.
And more importantly, when a monkey turns “human” will it be subjected to all legal rules. If yes, can it sue the “rogue” scientists who created it through “unethical” genetic engineering? These and other issues formed part of interesting debate on the sidelines of the Science Congress.

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