I don’t know how many of you have heard about this, but recently I’ve seen a few article headlines about how humans have created the first human-pig hybrid! Clearly this freaked me out and reminded me of our novel, so I decided to look into it.
The first thing I learned is that although humans have succeeded in injecting human stem cells into pig embryos and implanting the embryos in adult pigs, the embryos were then removed, meaning that we don’t have fully-grown real-life pigoons wandering around preparing to survive the apocalypse and terrorize lone surviving humans just yet- but we’re one step closer! This also means that they are not yet incredibly useful to us, as the organs are not developed and as of right now, have so many pig cells that they would be rejected by human bodies.
These hybrids, by the way, are referred to as “chimeras” (the term for any organism or tissue containing two or more sets of DNA) and a four-week old human-pig chimera embryo looks like this:
Freaky, right? Although this is still in it’s early stages and it could take many years before the researchers are capable of creating functional human organs, I still find myself thinking to the distant future and wondering about the implications of this research. I’m not the only one- many of the articles I’ve read on this topic suggest diverse possibilities for what this research could lead to, whether optimistic or pessimistic, or a little bit of both. This article briefly speculates on whether human abilities that were suppressed during evolution could return in a different environment. This article mentions public concern over whether the creatures could develop human brains, and what may happen if they were released into the wild- some of the exact issues we see raised in Oryx and Crake. This article suggests that human organs grown in pigs could one day be so cheap, safe and easily available that it would become common for doctors to replace human organs as we grow older, in order to extend human lifespans.
Reading these reactions and others reminds me that Atwood really did tap into realistic human hopes and fears- the places where many people’s concerns lie are often the same as those predicted within the novel. I guess we will have to wait and see what the future holds when it comes to this intriguing research.
Sources (besides those already linked to in the post):