Researchers in China are laying claim to the first ever pig-monkey chimeras to be born in what they hope will be a breakthrough for biomedicine, not just fuel for your nightmares.
The world’s first monkey-pig hybrids have been born in a Chinese lab amid scientific attempts to grow human organs inside animals. The incredible experiment saw two chimera piglets born with DNA from both pigs and cynomolgus monkeys. However, the experiment was short-lived as the two piglets both died within a week.
According to the researchers, the baby piglets had genetic material from cynomolgus monkeys in their heart, liver, spleen, lung and skin.
However, the success rate was significantly low as only 10 piglets were born from more than 4,000 implanted in sows.
From those, only two were chimeras in a result that has been deemed “discouraging” by other leading stem cell scientists.
Lead researcher Tang Hai at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology in Beijing said: “This is the first report of full-term pig-monkey chimeras.”
Ms Hai confirmed that it was unclear why the piglets died, but the non-chimeric pigs died as well.
The Chinese research team suspect that the deaths could have been due to the IVF process instead than the chimerism
According to research study, stem cells from macaque monkeys were grown in a lab and then injected into pig embryos five days after fertilisation.
Ms Hai said that the next step in their research was to create healthy animals with a higher proportion of monkey cells before creating pigs in which one organ is composed almost entirely of primate cells.
The ultimate research goal is to grow human organs inside live animals as a way to resolve the crisis of organ transplantation.
University of California stem cell biologist Paul Knoepfler said: “Given the extremely low chimeric efficiency and the deaths of all the animals, I see this as fairly discouraging.”
Reaction to the study has prompted many social media users to question if this is “a step too far”.