In Part 1 I posted about recent claims by Dr. Gordon Gallup that in the late 1920s a primate lab in Florida impregnated a female chimp with human male sperm and that the result was a living human-chimp hybrid. Due to moral concerns and the religious attitude of the US at that time and because of several moral questions the scientists involved in that endeavor terminated the infant a few weeks after it was born. I also posted about Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s program to create a human-ape hybrid under the direction of Dr Ilya Ivanov and that we still don’t know for certain if that program was successful or not. In this post I will address some of the “logistics” involved in creating hybrids in general and specifically human-ape hybrids.
In the above graphic we see the chromosome comparisons of Orangutans, Gorillas, Chimps, and Humans. As you can see there are many similarities but there are also some differences. The similarities are due to humans and apes sharing a common ancestor about 7 mya (million years ago). As we diverged from that common ancestor some of our chromosomes changed as did those of the other primates so there are still similarities we share but there are some differences too.
The creation of a human-ape primate would be a hybrid and you may not realize that we have plenty of hybrids around today. For example, the mule is a hybrid as it is a cross between a male donkey and female horse (mare). The mule is bigger, stronger, and smarter than either the donkey or the horse and this higher intelligence and size is generally found in hybrids. Humans have been creating hybrids for thousands of years, in fact. Consider the many breeds of dogs and cats we have today. They were created by humans via controlled breeding programs formal and informal. In terms of dogs there are many breeds and many sizes but the end result of their DNA says that they all come from the grey wolf. Scientists today know that it IS possible to crossbreed two related animals from different species to produce a living hybrid. MOST hybrids are sterile (meaning they cannot reproduce) but NOT ALL hybrids are sterile and that’s important to keep in mind because the MYTH is that all hybrids are sterile when they are in fact NOT. The Donkey has 62 chromosomes and a horse has 64. It is this difference in the number of chromosomes that most often causes the hybrid to be born sterile…..sometimes.
Another hybrid is the Liger which is a cross between a male lion and female tiger. We can also crossbreed a male tiger with a female lion and produce a hybrid known as the “Tigon.” These big cat hybrids never existed until man started playing around with DNA via crossbreeding just as the mule didn’t exist. The liger hybrid is much larger than a lion or tiger and is, in fact, the largest known big cat on the planet. Some of them weigh over 1000 lbs and are over 10 ft long! These big cats have strips like tigers but fur like a lion.
So what about man and ape?
In order to produce a hybrid you must have two species that are closely related such as a lion and tiger or horse and donkey. When it comes to humans our closest living relative is the chimp, specifically the Bonobo. We share about 96% of our DNA with chimps and about 99% with Bonobos (a species of chimp). We share about 98% of our DNA with gorillas also. About 7 million years ago we shared a common ancient ancestor with these primates but as time went on we diverged (all of us) from that common ancestor. However, we are STILL closely related to our other primate relatives on this planet! Don’t forget that humans are also considered primates.
Let’s not get caught up in numbers but keep this simple. Let’s just say we share around 98% of our DNA with chimps. That’s pretty close! In fact, that’s close enough to make interbreeding (crossbreeding) POSSIBLE! Some scientists have suggested that because of this we should classify chimps in the genus “homo” meaning “human,” rather than in their current class of “Pongidae.” Now here is where this all gets tricky. Although we share 98% of our DNA with chimps our chromosomes are arranged slightly different! Humans have 46 chromosomes while chimps have 48 so any hybrid human-ape should have 47 chromosomes. This difference in the number of chromosomes does NOT mean crossbreeding is not possible.
Recent genetic studies have shown that human ancestors and chimp ancestors interbred as recently as 1.2 mya. In fact, it is possible that we humans today are descendants of the hybrids produced by that crossbreeding some scientists believe. Most humans are not sterile although some are so if we are indeed hybrids we are a hybrid species capable of reproducing on our own.
So, scientifically we know it IS POSSIBLE to mate a human with an ape and produce a hybrid offspring with Dr Gordon Gallup calls a HUMANZEE (as I noted in Part 1). Returning to chromosomes some of those found in chimps are connected differently than those found in modern humans and this poses problems in crossbreeding unless we found some way to turn those specific chromosomes around. In that case, there would be little to no problem crossbreeding humans and apes/chimps.
As far as we can tell there are 9 pericentric inversions in the chromosomes of a chimp in comparison to ours. This means that there are 9 connections between chimp chromosomes that are the reverse or ours. This pericentric inversion involves the arms of a chromosome where they join to another chromosome and this can cause medical issues for hybrid offspring. So 9 of these inversions separate humans from chimps and that is NOT much but may be enough to cause problems in trying to mate humans with chimps. Cutting and splicing DNA is on the cutting edge of genetics and it’s being done so the likelihood of LIVE BIRTH of a HUMANZEE is actually becoming more and more POSSIBLE DAILY!! We can already choose the sex of our unborn child. We have animals growing human “spare parts.” We have pigs that can produce human blood. Add to that the fact that we also produce CLONES and that just a few weeks ago the last major hurdle was broken when we cloned TWO MONKEYS successfully and the possibility of producing a humanzee become even GREATER! Perhaps greater than any of us wish to believe?
Add to all this the history! Stalin and Ivanov were trying to create humanzees to use as Soviet super-soldiers. And add the assertions of Dr Gallup that in the 1920s in a primate lab in Florida a LIVE birth of a humanzee took place. And I’m sure there is even MORE experimentation history that has never been told when it come to such experiments! Hey, the world is full of “mad scientists” LOL. 🙂 If whatever it is can be done then SOMEBODY is going to do it one day or another!!! We humans like challenging the forbidden and the taboo!!
Turning now to some of the moral issue regarding creation of a humanzee I think one of the primary issues or questions is do we consider them human or ape? Apes can be owned and kept as pets or research animals or put on display in zoos. Do we do the same to a humanzee? Do we create them and use them as our slaves? Or do we deem them human and give them the rights that all the rest of us have? The FIRST QUESTION we will have to answer is if the humanzee is an ape or a HUMAN.
And then what about our religions (all of them)? How might the successful birth of a humanzee reshape some of our religious beliefs, if any? Or would such a birth simply force our religions to entrench themselves even deeper in creationism or their dogma? Would such a creation only serve to drive science and religion further apart?
Is trying to even create a humanzee moral and right? Or is it an abomination? A creature never meant to be that should be left in the realm of science fiction and the story of the “Island of Dr Moreau”? And what gives humans the right to play god? Might not it be to our benefit to leave well enough ALONE? Do we really want to increase the likelihood of “Planet of the Apes” becoming a reality? And then there is this……………..
A humanzee would be a hybrid and most hybrids are bigger, stronger, and smarter than their host parents. So what happens when the humanzee decides NOT to do what we want it to do???? What do we do then with our “creation”? Euthanize it like the scientists in the Florida lab did in the 1920s? But if it is human then that would be murder!
Although I find the idea of such crossbreeding fascinating there are a host of moral questions to be considered. And finally, I want to add this possibility……
Homo habilis aka “Handyman,” “Tool Man,” et al lived around 2.4 mya and died out around 1.4 mya according to conventional theory. This ancient human ancestors had many human traits yet it ALSO had some ape traits. Might not this species have been a more RECENT hybrid born of some unknown ape and some unknown human ancestor species? I’ve long considered H. habilis to be the REAL APE MAN! And I’ve also considered that this species is a MISSING LINK between apes and man!! I think H. habilis was a transitional species and not a newly evolved species at all, frankly.
Finally, when I was a child my relative took me to a big zoo and one of the exhibits in that zoo was a Liger. This was the largest cat I’d ever seen then or since! The thing was huge! It was at least 10 feet long and it had to have weighed at least 1000 lbs. The head and shoulders on the thing were massive. It looked like a lion but it had stripes like a tiger which is exactly what it was, part tiger and part lion, a hybrid. As I stood there and looked at this huge cat I began to get some “weird vibes.” I began to think that I was looking at a creature never intended to be by Nature. This was, thus, an unnatural creature/cat. This was not a creation of nature but of MAN. Those thoughts and the image of that large cat has stuck in my mind all of these years and I can still see it clearly. The same is true with a Tigon, part tiger and part lion, that I saw at another zoo when I was younger. Standing in front of that Liger made me feel like an ant even though a cage separated us. I knew this thing could take my head off in no time at all. Man was no challenge for him! And so I wonder now…..can the same be said for a humanzee? Are we, humans, really no challenge for it at all? Creatures never meant to be by nature. A creation(s) of MAN not Nature!
Human nature is one of being curious. We seem to have an innate desire to know the unknown and to explore the forbidden. Mystery intrigues us to no end. Taboo is but a temporary barrier. In the end one among us will cross that line and breach that barrier even if in secret. So who is to say that Professor Gordon Gallup is simply repeating a tall-tale? It is very possible that in the 1920s one or a few among us at a primate lab in Florida crossed that barrier and did the unthinkable and unethical and crossbred a chimp with a human producing a living, breathing HUMANZEE! And now the question becomes how many MORE have done the same? I’m sure those scientists from the 1920s have plenty of company!!
Throughout this blog I have posted my theory that perhaps human evolution is not necessarily evolution (growth). Perhaps, instead, we modern humans are the end result of millions of years of interbreeding, crossbreeding, and even sometimes back-breeding between various species of ancient human ancestors. We are the HYBRID results, then. And did I say “end result”? Why yes I did but perhaps by mistake for we may NOT be the “end result” of all that hybridization after all as a humanzee may be the end result! And so would that be evolution (growth) or devolution (going backwards)? Or would it be something altogether different? If we have not yet created a humanzee then at some point in the VERY NEAR future I’m sure we will. And I hope when that happens that we are told about it and that we determine it is not some “creature” or “thing” but a HUMAN BEING NOT to be caged up in some zoo. We shall see…………….