Human/Chimp Hybrid Discussion

Eric Cabot elmo at uhura.cc.rochester.edu
Wed Jul 17 10:48:38 EST 1991


In <13D15D432020142A at LUCY.WELLESLEY.EDU> MMELAN at LUCY.WELLESLEY.EDU (Melissa Melan) writes:

<interesting comments on plants and animals deleted>

>	As for the question of "creating" hybrids....This seems to be more
>of an exercise of curiosity rather than one which will generate any useful
>information.  Even in the plant world, hybridization to produce crop or
>ornamental plants is much more of a practical application rather than one 
>which gives us new insights into plant biology.  As for a human-chimp
>hybrid....ethical questions abound and it would at best a curiosity rather
>than an organism which tells us anything new.  Do jackasses give us any new
>information about horse biology???  Not really.

>===========================================================================
>Melissa Melan
>Department of Biological Sciences
>Wellesley College
>Wellesley, MA  02181

Actually the study of hybrids can lead to very interesting biological 
insights.  In our lab we study hybrids between Drosophila species for
this reason. Curiously, there is a relatively common phenomenon
called Haldane's rule (really an observation) that states that
when closely related species are partially interfertile is it usually
the heterogametic sex that inviable or infertile. (Males are heterogametic
in both Homo and Drosophila). 

  In our system we are using this principle to map genes that 
are responsible for defective spermiogenesis
in hybrid males. (The females are basically ok). 
The key point, relative to this discussion is that the genetic
study of hybrids reveals developmental mechanisms that would
otherwise go unnoticed. Why? Because the genes involved in the
males' sterility work just fine in their own genetic background.

   There is also an evolutionary slant to this kind of work (as
mentioned in the original posting about Chimp/Human crosses).
Unlike the original poster, we  don't just ask about the relationship
between overall genetic distance and ability to hybridize. 
Instead we ask what genetic changes occur that make nascent species
become incompatible, and thus new species (in the Dobzhansky sense of
the word). 


   In regards to the original poster's query about Human/Chimp
hybrids...I recall that this particular debate raged for sometime
in the group sci.bio about a year ago. Basically one has to question
the *ethical* rather than the biological validity of such an experiment
although, as pointed out by Melissa Melan, there was no scientific
justification provided for the the Human/Chimp experiment other
than, apparenty, curiosity. This is not to say that one couldn't
devise reasonable scientific justification for such a proposition-
just that in this case I don't think that scientific justification
would outweigh the moral objections. 

    By the way, some of the
proponents of this kind of cross in the sci.bio debate envisioned
populations of semi-intelligent slaves that could relieve man 
of burdens of phyiscal and/or boring labors. How many of us in
the field of biology consider our [sometimes] boring labors to
be anything other than labors of love? 


  
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Eric Cabot                              |    elmo at uhura.cc.rochester.edu
      "insert your face here"           |    elmo at uordbv.bitnet
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