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Dr. Moreau, Cambridge Scientists Have New Guidelines for You

Calling all real-life Dr. Moreaus: Your time to create human-animal hybrids may be running out. Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences launched a study this month to help decide what is acceptable when creating “beast men” in the name of scientific research. Its leaders have this crazy idea that, as the technology for putting human genetic material into animals spreads, some scientists may want to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Now what would give them that idea?

Now there are some who might consider The Island of Dr. Moreau to be a work of fancy. But others know that as our understanding of genetics improves, fiction can become startlingly real. So for the next twelve to eighteen months, a group will ascertain what modifications people are willing to accept, and what will freak them out. When they’re finished, the scientists will establish guidelines that potential rogue researchers will obey without question. Problem solved. Unless, of course, the scientists are working on remote islands playing by their own rules.

“It is important that we consider these questions now so that appropriate boundaries are recognized and research is able to fulfill its potential,” said Martin Bobrow, professor of medical genetics at Cambridge University and chair of the group.

The infamous Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) was hoping to create “some measure of refinement in the human species” with his work, but real researchers say that making animal-human hybrids can help treat human illnesses and cure disease.

That was the goal of mad scifi scientist Dr. McCallister (Saffron Burrows) in Deep Blue Sea, but her plan to cure Alzheimer’s using sharks with bigger brains backfired when the sharks put together a plan of their own (it didn’t involve helping humans). Which brings up a good point for the study: Making mice with human brains might pass as acceptable, but please, no smart sharks.

The team is also hoping to help the public understand what chimeras are already living in labs around the world — and what ones could be created in the near future. Pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies? Done. Mice with human livers? Done. Animals with human hands? Coming soon.

It sounds like they’re asking us to face our fictional genetic fears head-on. Are you ready to meet animals that talk or mice that make human sperm? The more human-like the animal, the better research model it makes. But you can bet these creatures won’t look like Aissa, the most beautiful experiment on The Island of Dr. Moreau.

“There is a whole raft of new scientific techniques that will make it not only easier but also more important to be able to do these cross-species experiments,” said Bobrow. I suggest, when it comes to talking animals, let’s not start with apes — we don’t want to be reliving Planet of the Apes, now do we? On the other hand, scientists have made progress in figuring out the genetic secrets that help spiders spin their sticky webs. Maybe it’s time to start working on a Spider-Man? What genetic man beast would you like to see come to life?

One thing is for sure: If scientists do cross the line, they’ll know right away. Not because of this study; because their creations will kill them. Have they learned nothing from the movies?

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