Scientists are now warning the Chinese who have created monkeys with Human Brain genes. The genes may alter their intelligence to resemble that of a human’s.
Chinese researchers took human copies of the MCPH1 gene and introduced it into monkey embryos through a virus that carried the gene.
The Chinese researchers describe the study as “the first attempt to experimentally interrogate the genetic basis of human brain origin using a transgenic monkey model.”
Their goal for the study is to answer the question:
“How did humans develop our unique brand of intelligence, and why is it other primates aren’t able to innovate in the same ways humans can.”
The Chinese aren’t just stopping at the MCPH1 gene. Bing Su, a geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, told MIT Technology Review that he’s testing other genes that are related to human intelligence and are involved in the evolution of the brain. The publication states:
One that he has his eye on is SRGAP2C, a DNA variant that arose about two million years ago, just when Australopithecus was ceding the African savannah to early humans. That gene has been dubbed the “humanity switch” and the “missing genetic link” for its likely role in the emergence of human intelligence. Su says he’s been adding it to monkeys, but that it’s too soon to say what the results are.
Bing Su is also thinking about introducing the FOXP2 gene into monkeys. The FOXP2 gene is the gene believed to have given humans their abilities to create and speak languages.
Colorado bioethicist Jacqueline Glover brought up the moral perspective, where she says giving monkeys human intelligence is to cause them harm, saying:
“To humanize them is to cause harm. Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can’t have a meaningful life in any context.”
Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve and an emerita professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, called Bing Su’s experiment “an ethical nightmare,” writing:
“More of the genetically altered monkeys — six — died than lived, so right off the bat we see that the procedure is often lethal. Regarding the five survivors, what kind of lives will they have going forward, altered as they are and confined to an experimental laboratory?”
King also brought up other factors in relation to making monkey’s more intelligent. To put it simply, she said that monkeys have been given diseases and tested on, but that’s much different than altering the intelligence of a monkey, and then testing on those altered monkeys.
She stated that if you introduce a disease to a monkey, morality comes into play but you’re still just giving a monkey a disease, and it doesn’t change the fundamental nature of what it means to be that animal. But when you alter a monkey’s intelligence, you’re changing the animal completely, and making it able to perceive the different types of anguish and pain a human may go through, like specific types stress and depression, and how the monkey deals with it in the deep and conscious way humans do.
Bing Su stated:
“Although their [monkeys] genome is close to ours, there are also tens of millions of differences,”
Bing Su stated that through his experiments, making monkeys “unmonkey-like” would be almost “impossible by introducing only a few human genes.”