Miss Piggy may soon be a real person, thanks to scientists making human-pig hybrids.
That sounds like the most outrageous headline, doesn’t it? While humans and pigs do share certain similarities (such as the similarity in skin and muscle composition), there is very little the two have in common. To hear that scientists are making half-pigs, half-humans seems a stretch, doesn’t it? Here’s the truth: scientists have produced pig embryos that are able to carry human cells. The idea behind this is to generate animal organs that will be able to be transplanted into humans. With the human cells, the organs won’t be rejected by the human body. Thus, doctors will have a new source of organs for transplantation, thanks to human-pig hybrids.
New science means advances in the fields of general health, life expansion, human reproduction, and even beauty. Yes, there could even be cosmetic applications to this research.
A team of scientists from the Salk Institute in California have been experimenting with this for only a short while. In fact, the NIH only lifted the ban on the funding for this sort of research in August 2016. As the data published in the journal proves, the technique is far from perfect. However, it is one step closer to finding a way to increase the availability of organs.
The interesting thing is that this isn’t a new field of study. To date there have been many scientists trying to find a way to turn animal organs into organs that can be used for human transplantation. What sets this new study apart is that it focuses not on replacing animal cells with human cells, but using BOTH.
Chimeras aren’t only the multi-headed serpents from Greek mythology. The term “chimeras” refers to animals that have parts or cells from two different species. These human and pig hybrids are technically chimeras, as they contain both human and pig cells. The embryos are grown long enough for the chimeras to develop different types of tissue. For example, the hybrids had human muscle cells along with their pig cells.
These human-pig hybrids are just the latest in a series of chimeras produced for scientific purposes. There is a herd of cattle living in South Dakota that have human immune systems. They are used to study a variety of antibody treatments without testing on actual humans. There exist a group of sheep with human genes spliced into their DNA. These sheep produce special human proteins in their milk that can treat a very rare lung disease. There are even pigs that produce human blood, and mice that have received human stem cells in order to walk.
But what makes this new discovery so important is the fact that it’s one step closer to providing available organs for humans. There are close to 120,000 people currently waiting for an organ for transplantation. Many of those people will die because of the scarcity of organs. If pig organs contained human DNA, there would be a much higher chance of success than building a new organ in a lab.
The method is far from successful. Master cells (taken from human skin cells) were injected into the pig embryo and removed after a few weeks of gestation. The piglet was never expected to live, so the organs would never fully mature. There are years of study and research ahead in order to make this dream a reality.
These human-pig hybrids could one day save A LOT of lives. After all, if there was a way to make animal organs compatible with humans, it would solve the organ lack without impacting the circle of life. Thousands of cattle and pigs are slaughtered every day for meat, so their organs could do more than just provide delicious food—they could very well save lives!