Stirring the Genetic Pot

“A mother is always the beginning. She is how things begin.”

― Amy Tan

Unless it’s two mothers.

In the news today is the story of a baby born having a father and – not one, but – two biological mothers.

According to the magazine New Scientist, Dr. John Zhang of New York, and his team, performed a procedure on a Jordanian woman, in Mexico (there, because it’s not permitted in the U.S.), where a portion of her DNA was removed from one of her eggs, inserted into the DNA-laden egg of a donor, and then fertilized by the father’s sperm. 

The result was a fetus with the DNA of three parents.

The boy was born five months ago, absent in his genetic make-up the DNA left behind in the original egg that would have killed him in a few months or a couple of years, as it did his two siblings, of the neurological disorder Leigh Syndrome. 

And he will pass down this DNA cocktail mixture to his descendants.

That’s some heady stuff, and I’m a little conflicted over it. On the one hand, I’m very happy for those parents – not to mention the boy – who will see their dreams fufilled. On the other hand, the knowledge that, what has long been the grist of science fiction is now science fact, leaves me a wee bit nonplused – will someone eventually use the same procedure to introduce non-human DNA into a human egg?

Chimpanzees are genetically 98% similar to humans, cats 90%, 82% dogs, 80% cows, 75% mice (75% of mouse genes have equivalents in humans, 90% of the mouse genome could be lined up with a region on the human genome and 99% of mouse genes turn out to have analogues in humans), 60% fruit fly, and 60% chicken.

What characteristics might these hybred humans have? Greater strength, fur for warmth, wings to fly, more acute vision?

Maybe Stan Lee, when he envisioned the characters of his X-Men comic books, was unknowingly prescient.

And the idea isn’t too farfetched. I recently watched a science program on tv that noted scientists are researching altering human genes to mimic those of certain species of frog that can be completely frozen during winter, only to thaw and reanimate without harm in the spring, to put astronauts into deep hibernation for the hundreds of years it will take just to visit the closest star systems (with the intent of colonizing any habitable planet there. They also pointed out that other genetic tinkering may be needed to help them survive, due to other factors – such as differing atmospheres and gravities, etc. – and that in just a few generations those colonists would no longer look human because of the environment.)

And the question is, could they, then, still be considered human?

And let’s not go into the “alien-theorists” who posit how we “evolved” by alien intervention involving hominids to produce humans. However…

– Bill


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