Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Science Behind The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes 3a: Neurogenesis

What is neurogenesis? Does it have the potential to be build super-brains?  Will new hybrids appear that will change all our assumptions about species?

This is not known yet, but the answer seems to be yes, in time.    Research into NHP (non human primates) still faces problems, as is explained in the latest report published by the Scientific Medical Association in the UK in July of 2011.  In regards to this the report states,
As ever, the dilemma of primate research opens up: by humanizing these monkeys to make them useful as models of human neurodegenerative disorders, one may endow them with capacities and abilities which make it even more problematic to carry out the research. It is not possible to resolve this dilemma at present.
It is interesting to note that the report recommends that it be illegal to experiment on great apes. This naturally leads us to ask why.  The report continues,
One can be confident that the introduction of some human neural stem cells would not endow a monkey with a human-type self-consciousness, since that requires a capacity for higher-order thoughts associated with language, and it is fanciful to suppose that this capacity might be produced in a monkey simply by the introduction of some human neural stem cells into its brain. But once one recognizes that the important comparison here is with Great Apes, then the uncertainties that affect our understanding of their cognitive abilities also affect procedures for comparing their abilities to those of enhanced monkeys. Hence if work of this kind with monkeys proceeds it would be important to study some neurally humanized monkeys before potentially damaging medical research on them is undertaken so that an informed assessment of their abilities can be undertaken.
"The fear is that if you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human.. speech, or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us..." Professor Thomas Baldwin Academy of Medical Sciences UK
The authors of the report view it as "fanciful" to think that a human-type self-consciousness would be produced by the mere insertion of human neural stem cells.  However, it would not in our opinion be "fanciful" to think that a new type of monkey consciousness might be produced which might be more intelligent than their present consciousness.

There is also a public concern about human reproductive cells in animals.  Why would this be a concern?  What kind of research could produce this concern?  The report explains,
...the main area of research here involves the grafting of human reproductive tissues such as ovarian tissue into mice or other animals in order to understand reproductive biology, the causes of infertility, and to develop methods for preserving the reproductive potential of young people, for example those whose therapeutic treatment poses a threat to the viability of their reproductive system.
And what kinds of possibilities rise in these procedures?  The area, since it is so new, has very few assurances.
So the issue here is whether there is a significant chance that while these human reproductive tissues are lodged within a mouse or similar animal, some human germ cells might migrate within the host animal to that animal’s own reproductive system and then lead to the creation of a hybrid human–animal embryo. In principle it appears that an event of this kind could occur, albeit unlikely. So far as we know, no such event has occurred in the context of current research; but we share the public’s concern that this should not happen. There will be many ways of rationalizing opposition to the creation of such an embryo, but for us it is sufficient to observe that it could never lead to the birth of a biologically coherent animal. So research that involves placing human reproductive tissues in non-human animals needs to be conducted in a way which avoids the risk of fertilisation inside the animal.
The report goes on to describe the different kinds of biological entities created.

  1. Cytoplasmic hybrids - embryos created by techniques used in cloning, using human gametes or cells, and animal eggs.  Such embryos are mostly human except for the presence of animal mitochondria.
  2. Human-animal hybrid embryos - embryos created using a human egg and the sperm of an animal, or an animal egg and a human sperm; or by combining a pronucleus of an animal with a human pronucleus.
  3. Human transgenic embryos - embryos created by introducing animal DNA into one or more cells of a human embryo.
  4. Human-animal chimeras - human embryos altered by the addition of one of more cells from an animal.
The kind of research that is suggested to be permitted under English law is as follows:
Mixing sperm with the egg of a hamster, or another animal specified in directions, for the purpose of developing more effective techniques for determining the fertility or normality of sperm, but only where anything which forms is destroyed when the research is complete and, in any event, no later than the two-cell stage.
Another procedure sanctioned by law is the, "creation, keeping or using human admixed embryos in vitro, for the purposes of a project of research specified in the license."

What is not permitted by the HFE (Human Fertilization and Embryology) Act of 1990 (in its 2008 emendation):
  1. Placing any embryo or gametes, other than permitted embryos or gametes, into a woman.
  2. Placing a human embryo in any animal
  3. Placing a human admixed embryo in an animal
  4. Keeping or using a human embryo, or a human admixed embryo, after either the appearance of the primitive streak or 14 days of development.
In regards to animals acquiring languages due to biological experimentation the report states,
Recent research to investigate language- related disorders identified a mutation in a gene (known as FOXP2), which was found to be associated with an inherited form of speech and language disorder in humans. The FOXP2 sequence was found to be different between humans and Great Apes (and other mammals), leading to the suggestion that these changes may be partly responsible for the acquisition of speech during human evolution.  Furthermore, when the human equivalent sequences were introduced into mice, they developed vocalisations different from those of non-modified mice.  These studies provide some evidence to suggest roles for genes such as FOXP2 in the processes underpinning speech and language development.
The report makes it a point to clarify that just because the vocalization can be changed, this is still a far cry from the development of language which is much more complex.  The report goes on to say that "Although in some studies carefully trained NHPs have developed some aspects of communication, it is not clear that even a modified NHP brain would have the capacity for complex human communication in its true sense."  However, to demonstrate how little is known about this area still the report explains that, "Creating characteristics such as speech and behavior in animals would be very complex, probably requiring manipulation of enviromental as well as biological factors."

Vacanti mouse
In regards to human like appearances placed into animals by the way of some biological process, the report postulates that research will most like be done in this area.  A basic and famous example of this is the vacanti mouse.  The ear does not anatomically work.  It does not "hear" anything.  It simply looks like a human ear and made out of human cartilage.  So there are reports of human skin being grown on the faces of monkeys, etc.  Right now we are assured that these things will be carefully controlled and that no hybrids will be produced.  But can such promises be kept, even if well intentioned?  We doubt this.  Life cannot be captured and held in a jar, no matter how sophisticated it is.

There is also the world of neurogenesis.  This is a world that has the potential of expanding human intelligence.  Right now there are not universally established standards for what human intelligence is, but that will change.  Right now, the results are slow, but this will also change.  So is it possible something like the Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes might happen, yes.  


Anonymous said...

Your point is valueble for me. Thanks!

My blog:
internet flatrate vergleich und dsl anbieter vergleich

Rachel Armstrong said...

You always write such interesting features :)

Coyoty said...

Experiments in adult avian neurogenesis have resulted in birds receiving brain tissue donated from a different species acquiring the songs of the donor species.  This indicates that vocal language could be transferred from humans to non-humans.  The recipient species may not have the physical ability to vocalize, but it might have the mental ability to process human vocalization.