Scientists Create Early Embryos That Are Part Human, Part Monkey

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April 15, 202111:01 AM ET

Rob Stein, photographed for NPR, 22 January 2020, in Washington DC.

ROB STEINTwitterFacebook

Using fluorescent antibody-based stains and advanced microscopy, researchers are able to visualize cells of different species origins in an early stage chimeric embryo. The red color indicates the cells of human origin.Weizhi Ji/Kunming University of Science and Technology

For the first time, scientists have created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells.

The embryos, described Thursday in the journal Cell, were created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants, says the international team of scientists who collaborated in the work. But the research raises a variety of concerns.

“My first question is: Why?” says Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Still, the scientists who conducted the research, and some other bioethicists defended the experiment.

“This is one of the major problems in medicine — organ transplantation,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, Calif., and a co-author of the Cell study. “The demand for that is much higher than the supply.”Article continues after sponsor message


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“I don’t see this type of research being ethically problematic,” says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University. “It’s aimed at lofty humanitarian goals.”

Thousands of people die every year in the United States waiting for an organ transplant, Hyun notes. So, in recent years, some researchers in the U.S. and beyond have been injecting human stem cells into sheep and pig embryos to see if they might eventually grow human organs in such animals for transplantation.

But so far, that approach hasn’t worked. So Belmonte teamed up with scientists in China and elsewhere to try something different. The researchers injected 25 cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells from humans — commonly called iPS cells — into embryos from macaque monkeys, which are much more closely genetically related to humans than are sheep and pigs.

After one day, the researchers report, they were able to detect human cells growing in 132 of the embryos, and were able study the embryos for up to 19 days. That enabled the scientists to learn more about how animal cells and human cells communicate, an important step toward eventually helping researchers find new ways to grow organs for transplantation in other animals, Belmonte says.


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“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Belmonte tells NPR. “We are very, very excited.”

Such mixed-species embryos are known as chimeras, named for the fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part-lion, part-goat, part-snake.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte says. “And we are not doing anything like that. We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.”

In addition, Belmonte hopes this kind of work could lead to new insights into early human development, aging and the underlying causes of cancer and other disease.

Some other scientists NPR spoke with agree the research could be very useful.

“This work is an important step that provides very compelling evidence that someday when we understand fully what the process is we could make them develop into a heart or a kidney or lungs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Platt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, who is doing related experiments but was not involved in the new research.

But this type of scientific work and the possibilities it opens up raises serious questions for some ethicists. The biggest concern, they say, is that someone could try to take this work further and attempt to make a baby out of an embryo made this way. Specifically, the critics worry that human cells could become part of the developing brain of such an embryo — and of the brain of the resulting animal.

“Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else?” says Matthews. “At what point are you taking something and using it for organs when it actually is starting to think, and have logic?”

Another concern is that using human cells in this way could produce animals that have human sperm or eggs.

“Nobody really wants monkeys walking around with human eggs and human sperm inside them,” says Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist, who co-wrote an article in the same issue of the journal that critiques the line of research, while noting that this particular study was ethically done. “Because if a monkey with human sperm meets a monkey with human eggs, nobody wants a human embryo inside a monkey’s uterus.”

Belmonte acknowledges the ethical concerns. But he stresses that his team has no intention of trying to create animals with the part-human, part-monkey embryos, or to even try to grow human organs in such a closely related species. He says his team consulted closely with bioethicists, including Greely.

Greely says he hopes the work will spur a more general debate about how far scientists should be allowed to go with this kind of research.

“I don’t think we’re on the edge of beyond the Planet of the Apes. I think rogue scientists are few and far between. But they’re not zero,” Greely says. “So I do think it’s an appropriate time for us to start thinking about, ‘Should we ever let these go beyond a petri dish?’ “

For several years, the National Institutes of Health has been weighing the idea of lifting a ban on funding for this kind of research, but has been waiting for new guidelines, which are expected to come out next month, from the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The notion of using organs from animals for transplants has also long raised concerns about spreading viruses from animals to humans. So, if the current research comes to fruition, steps would have to be taken to reduce that infection risk, scientists say, such as carefully sequestering animals used for that purpose and screening any organs used for transplantation.

Greenwashing Our Food: Exposing “Sustainable” Labels

9 April 2021

Hope Bohanec

In honor of Earth Day, this episode of UPC’s Hope for the Animals Podcast exposes the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the new “sustainable” labels that are becoming more prevalent on meat, dairy, and egg products. On the podcast today, Hope will be flying solo and sharing her knowledge about this issue. She has written a book on humane-washing and greenwashing called The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? In Episode 25, Hope will reveal the truth about labels like local, organic, free-range, and grassfed.


Here are some reviews of the Hope for the Animals Podcast from listeners on iTunes:

“This is an excellent podcast where every episode is filled with educational and thought-provoking content on the animal agriculture industry.” -Greg_B_21

“Before listening to this podcast, I thought I knew everything there was to know about veganism. I always learn something new with every episode of Hope for the Animals. This is a must listen podcast!” -Namaste Kitten

“I always learn something from listening to Hope. The interviews are both a wealth of information and emotionally hard-hitting.” -Plant Based Janice

Leave the live bunnies, chicks and ducklings out of the basket

Easter basket

By Jonan Pilet on April 2, 2021

Giving live animals as Easter gifts has been a tradition for decades, as a child I received a rabbit one Easter and baby chicks the Easter after. And beside my anecdotal evidence of the chicks wreaking havoc in my family’s backyard, there are serious humane and public health reasons to stick to chocolate gifts this Easter.

Year after year hundreds of human illnesses and agonizing deaths for baby chicks, ducks and rabbits are caused by this gift giving tradition. However, this has done nothing to curb the practice.

From 2000 through 2018 there were 76 Salmonella outbreaks linked to live poultry. Those outbreaks sickened 5,128, resulting in 950 hospitalizations and 7 deaths. The number of individual cases of Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and other infections from children playing with live chicks, ducks and bunnies is unknown.

Part of the problem is that children are among the most likely to not observe good hygiene around the animals and  children don’t have mature immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that children younger than five years of age shouldn’t handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other poultry, as young children are even more likely to get sick from germs like Salmonella.

In 2020, CDC and public health officials in all 50 states investigated 17 multistate outbreaks of Salmonella illnesses linked to contact with poultry in backyard flocks. The number of illnesses reported this year was higher than the number reported during any of the past years’ outbreaks linked to backyard flocks.

As of Dec. 17, 2020, a total of 1,722 people infected with one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from all 50 states — 333 people were hospitalized and there was one death. Twenty-four percent of ill people were children younger than five years of age; 576 of the 876 ill people interviewed reported contact with chicks and ducklings.

People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources, including agricultural stores, websites and hatcheries.

Humane societies and animal rights groups across the U.S. advise against purchasing these pets as Easter gifts. A leading concern among these groups is the risk of animal “dumping.” This happens after the child has lost interest in the pet and the parent releases the animal into the wild. This can lead to tragedy on part of the pet and is an ecological concern.

For instance, domestic rabbits are not prepared for life in the wild and make easy prey for predators. They also will compete with other rabbit species in the area, potentially destroy native plants and can reproduce rapidly. Domestic rabbits can also carry and spread diseases, such as the RHD virus, to the indigenous rabbit species.

For more information on handling chicks safely watch the short video below.

About Salmonella infections

Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has handled live poultry and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Thousands Of Animals Packed On Ships In Suez Canal Backup: Reports

03/27/2021 09:27 am ET

“My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships,” said an Animals International representative.

By Mary Papenfuss

Thousands of animals are packed into ships stuck backed up at the Suez Canal, according to multiple reports, raising alarms about their welfare.

Bloomberg estimates 10 ships stuck in and around the canal are carrying livestock; The Guardian reported that tracking data show that at least 20 ships are transporting animals. Most of the animals are believed to be sheep, but some ships could also be carrying cattle.

The ships now face major delays as the container ship Ever Given remained wedged in Egypt’s narrow canal Saturday after running aground on Tuesday. Dislodging it may take at least a week.

Ships carrying livestock usually bring enough food and water for just a few extra days, sources told Bloomberg. Then ships either have to head to a port for extra feed, or arrange to have another vessel unload supplies. Ships could also try to sell the animals quickly in a nearby country.

“I wouldn’t expect just after a two-day delay for a problem to have built up,” Peter Stevenson, chief policy officer at animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming, told Bloomberg. “It’s as time goes by that the problems get worse. Occasionally, there are real scandals when things go wrong, but it’s a day-to-day horror.”

The organization has previously called for an end to live-animal shipments.

Georgios Hatzimanolis, a spokesperson for the tracking website Marine Traffic, told The Guardian that while some livestock ships were waiting to enter the canal, three “appear to be stuck at various points in the canal.” 

Five of the ships identified had loaded animals in Spain, and nine had loaded in Romania earlier this month, according to Animals International.

“My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons,” Gerit Weidinger, European Union coordinator for Animals International, told The Guardian. 

“Getting stuck on board means there is a risk [for the animals] of starvation, dehydration, injuries, waste buildup so they can’t lie down, and nor can the crew get rid of dead animal bodies in the [Suez] canal,” she said. “It’s basically a ticking biohazard time bomb for animals and the crew and any person involved.”

The U.S. has offered to aid efforts to move the Ever Given to open the canal. Several incoming vessels are now being diverted around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and dredging vessels are working around the clock to dislodge the massive ship.


For over forty years, the Commerford Zoo has exploited Minnie and forced her to perform for their financial gain. Over the past two years, both of Minnie’s elephant companions died. She is now held alone, without the psychologically necessary companionship of other elephants, at the Commerford Zoo’s small farm in Goshen, CT. 


Please complete this action alert asking the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to order that the USDA conduct an emergency inspection of the Commerford Zoo to ensure that Minnie is safe and properly cared for.

 ?Take future action with a single click.
Log in or Sign up for FastActionContact InformationPrefixFirst NameLast NameEmailRemember me so that I can use FastAction next time.Urgent concerns about an elephant at a Connecticut roadside zoo
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
I am writing to express serious concerns about the welfare of Minnie, an Asian elephant owned by the Commerford Zoo in Goshen, CT, who has not been seen in public for over a year.
Personalize your messageThank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
Sincerely, [Your information here]

Animal Testing Is Useless for Determining COVID Vaccine Effectiveness in Humans

A baby monkey in a laboratory is examined by employees in the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi, Thailand, on May 3, 2020. Scientists at the center tested potential vaccines for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on animals, including monkeys.
A baby monkey in a laboratory is examined by employees in the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi, Thailand, on May 3, 2020. Scientists at the center tested potential vaccines for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on animals, including monkeys.

BYAysha AkhtarTruthoutPUBLISHEDMarch 20, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

There have been concerted efforts on the part of primate researchers to convince the public and political leaders that more money and monkeys are needed for COVID-19 vaccine research. It’s not surprising that monkey researchers would attempt to exploit people’s fears about the pandemic to increase “supplies” and funding for their work.

What is surprising, however, is the complete lack of differing scientific views offered. The problem with the assertions made by pro-monkey research groups is their lack of supporting evidence.

Most findings in animals, including nonhuman primates (NHPs), do not predict human results — and, thus, far from being helpful, they are actually misleading.

More than 700 human trials of potential HIV/AIDS vaccines have been conducted, all of which gave encouraging results in animals including monkeys and chimpanzees — yet not one has worked in humans. In fact, some HIV vaccines actually increase the risk of HIV in humans. And as models of human diseases, NHPs have failed for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, neuroscience/brain research, stroke, cancer, hepatitis C, and many more.

More than 90 percent of drugs that appear to be safe and effective in animals fail in human trials. Vaccine development has an even higher failure rate. Only 6 percent of vaccines make it to the market. Can you imagine if you boarded a plane, and the pilot announced that you have a 6 percent chance of landing safely at your destination? You would demand an overhaul of the entire airline industry. Yet, when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and drugs we put into our bodies, monkey researchers want you to believe that clinging to the tools of old (i.e., monkeys) is a good idea. We don’t see anyone suggesting we should stick to the 8-track tape when we can stream music on our phones.

There is a valid reason why we need diverse representation in human clinical trials. No one human can accurately represent how a vaccine or drug will work in another human. How can we expect another species to effectively predict biological responses in humans?

Although COVID vaccines were tested in animals for regulatory reasons — tradition-based, rather than science-based — there is devil in the detail. Biologically, very different processes are occurring with the COVID-19 virus. Mice proved difficult to infect with the virus, even when genetically modified to make them more susceptible. If they did show symptoms, they were mild. Different species of monkeys also failed to replicate human symptoms, and where symptoms did appear, they too tended to be mild, reflecting different infectious processes.

Human trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine proceeded despite prior monkey data that showed it did not prevent infection, and the Moderna vaccine was first encountered by humans without preceding animal trials. This would not have happened if the animal trials had been a crucial step in ensuring safety and efficacy.More than 90 percent of drugs that appear to be safe and effective in animals fail in human trials.

Expert opinion agrees: the chief medical officer at Moderna stated, “I don’t think proving this in an animal model is on the critical path to getting this to a clinical trial.” Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientific adviser said Human data is “100 times more significant” than NHP data, and Anthony Fauci stated that translating animal vaccine results to humans has been “one of the banes of our existence.” Pfizer and BioNTech recognized early on that mRNA vaccines work very differently in animals compared to humans.

Biomedical research is increasingly utilizing innovative techniques that are human-specific. These techniques include human mini-organs (organoids) and human organs-on-a-chip, where 3D cultures of human cells are housed on small chips, with circulatory systems and other means of mimicking real-life function and physiology of actual human organs and the human body.

These techniques are being used ever more widely in disease research and in drug discovery and development, and were used in pivotal stages of the COVID-19 vaccine development, alongside computational approaches to their design. Entire human immune systems can be cultured, as can lymph nodes (pivotal to immune function) specific to individual people to reflect interhuman variability, and reflective of both diseased and healthy states — all without the confounding issues of extrapolation between different species.

For the sake of human health, our tax dollars should be directed into the best science. Whichever way you look at it, future biomedical research, including vaccine development for pandemics like COVID-19, will be based on human biology and human-specific testing methods. These methods are quicker, cheaper, more humane and — most importantly — relevant.

Jane Goodall’s Advice on How to Lead a Full Life

The world-renowned scientist and conservationist has spent the pandemic living at her childhood home in England, watching “mindless television” with her sister at suppertime and working around the clock


By Lane FlorsheimMarch 15, 2021 8:32 am ET

  • TEXT

In our series My Monday Morning, self-motivated people tell WSJ. how they start off the week.

For Dr. Jane Goodall, the pandemic has meant the end of almost all of her normal routines. “There are no weekends anymore,” she says. “Every single day is Zooms and Skypes and interviews and video messages all over the world. And writing, I have writing to do.” Goodall, 86, one of the most famous scientists and conservationists in the world, has been living away from her usual home in Tanzania at her childhood house in Bournemouth, England, with members of her family. The only part of her schedule that’s the same every day comes at 12:30 p.m., when she takes her dog out for a short walk and then eats lunch in the garden, sitting under the beech tree she used to climb when she was young. She often has company. “I’m usually joined by a robin redbreast and a blackbird,” she says. “I’m always out there, even if it’s pouring rain, because I don’t want to disappoint the birds.”

Goodall first began to fulfill her dream of living among African wildlife when, at 22, she voyaged to Nairobi by boat from London. There, she met paleontologist Louis Leakey, who hired her to work as his assistant and eventually sent her to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, where she began her work with chimpanzees. Goodall’s observations disproved major beliefs about human uniqueness, including that we’re the only species capable of using and making tools and that we’re the only ones who have personalities and emotions. Though she stopped doing fieldwork in 1986, she is at work every day for the Jane Goodall Institute, which she founded in 1977 to promote wildlife and environmental conservation. She’s been married twice, first to Dutch wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, with whom she has a son, named Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, 54, and then to Derek Bryceson, who was a national parks director and assemblyman in Tanzania. Recently, Goodall launched an essential-oils collection sourced throughout Africa in partnership with Forest Remedies and started a podcast called the Jane Goodall Hopecast, which has featured guests like musician Dave Matthews and the teenage animal rights activist Genesis Butler.

Here, she tells WSJ. about her dream podcast guest and how she sees her legacy.

What time do you get up on Mondays, and what’s the first thing you do?

Full story: