Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Science Behind The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes 1

What is the science behind the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes?  Is there any related research?

If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

For some, this movie is just entertainment.  But perhaps most people in the world, in their busy lives, may not be aware of the strides that are being made in the biological sciences.  But whether the world at large is aware of it or not, the progress is made and humanity as a collective will have to make decisions which only decades ago seemed to belong only in the realm of science fiction.

In July 2011, a report was published by the Medical Academy of Sciences  titled, Animals Containing Human Material.  This report begins with this interesting statement:
...the mixing of human and animal cells or tissues, to create entities we refer to as 'animals containing human material' (ACHM).  Such approaches are long-established, and thousands of different ACHM have been used in biomedical research, yet they have received relatively little public discussion.  Technical and scientific advances (such as those in stem cell science) are rapidly increasing the sophistication of ACHM and expanding their utility.  This report considers the new opportunities in research and medicine, and the ethical and regulatory issues that emerge.
The report goes on to say,
Many ACHM models, such as transgenic rodents each containing one (or a few) human genes, and animals with human tissue grafts, have a long history of research use without major ethical or regulatory difficulties. However, technologies are advancing rapidly; more extensive sections of DNA can be manipulated, and methods using human stem cells to replace parts of tissue, or even whole organs, are becoming increasingly refined. By enabling progressively more extensive, and precise, substitution of human material in animals, these approaches may soon enable us to modify animals to an extent that might challenge social, ethical, or regulatory boundaries.
The areas the report addresses are as follows:

  1. Extensive modification of the brain of an animal, by implantation of human-derived cells, which might result in altered cognitive capacity approaching human 'consciousness' or 'sentience' or 'human-like' behavior capabilities.
  2. Situations where functional human gametes (eggs, sperm) might develop from precursor cell-types in an animal; and where fertilisation between either human (or human-derived) gametes and animal gametes might then occur.
  3. Cellular or genetic modifications which could result in animals with aspects of human-like appearance (skin type, limb or facial structure) or characteristics, such as speech.

Now no doubt many are thinking that although this is being done, it cannot produce the fantastic effects described in this film.  But could there be talking dogs, and apes?  The report admits such things are within the realm of possibility!  Many, rightly so, have spoken about the approaching artificial machine intelligence.  But not as many have carefully thought about the equal possibility that an enhanced hybrid intelligence is also in the horizon.

According to the report there are three levels of possible experimentation:
  1. The great majority of ACHM experiments pose no novel issues and should continue to be regulated through the same procedures as other research involving animals.
  2. A limited number of types of ACHM research should be permitted subject to additional specialist scrutiny by a national expert body. We outline a graded approach that should be considered for research in this category.
  3. A very narrow range of ACHM experiments should not currently be undertaken, because they raise very strong ethical concerns and lack sufficient scientific justification.
In our next installment of this series, we will discuss the amazing possibilities in this third category which boggle the human mind.

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