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Have Scientists in China “brain hacked” monkeys?

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. . . By inserting human genes?

The UK Daily Mail summarises news reports making the rounds:

The report details:


A new study into the unique evolution of human intelligence has raised ethical concerns after Chinese scientists implanted human brain genes into monkeys to boost their development. 
Researchers inserted human versions of MCPH1, a gene that scientists believe plays a role in the development of the human brain, into 11 rhesus monkeys.
They found the monkeys’ brains — like those of humans — took longer to develop, and the animals performed better in tests of short-term memory as well as reaction time compared to wild monkeys.
However, the monkeys did not grow bigger brains than the control group.
The test, the latest in a series of biomedical experiments in China to have fuelled medical ethics debates, has already drawn ethical concerns, and comparisons with dystopian sci-fi ‘Planet of the Apes’.

So, is this real or “monkey business”? Are we about to go bananas, Planet of the Apes style?

I rather doubt it. It seems from details, some research was done by “Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, working with US researchers at the University of North Carolina ” and on a fairly small sample of survivors, may have shown improved brain functionality. They went on to speculate on ” findings demonstrated that transgenic nonhuman primates (excluding ape species) have the potential to provide important — and potentially unique — insights into basic questions of what actually makes human unique.”

And of course, as rhesus monkeys are fairly low on the evolutionary totem-pole, they thought ethical concerns are minimised.

Monkeying with monkey genomes, of course, points to attempts to do the same with humans, and there is already talk of gene editing, i.e. Eugenics 2.0 looms, maybe even Stalin’s dream of half-ape super-soldiers (and suitably dimwit labourers for those dark satanic mills). Can sexual companions be far behind, given that sex robots are being made now?

Lest we forget, this is how Eugenics 1.0 was conceived of by its leaders and how it was sold to the masses:

Logo from the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921

Where, Hunter’s Civic Biology (the book at the heart of the infamous Scopes trial and promotional stunt) — as its title suggests — advocated eugenics.

So, it seems there are ontological, ethical, scientific and policy issues on the table forming a potentially toxic brew indeed.

Well, what do we think, why? END

14 Replies to “Have Scientists in China “brain hacked” monkeys?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Have Scientists in China “brain hacked” monkeys?

  2. 2
    AaronS1978 says:

    Well that’s really bizarre since I Sent you an email about exactly this about a month ago. Kinda answered my question though. It was still a monkey with the monkeys brain that performed a little bit better on tests incidentally and then died.

    Honestly, if anything could be done I think it needs to be done, and this sort of thing needs to be stopped.

    China seems to be the seat for mad scientist to do whatever they want. I can see what China is doing will eventually result in a mistake that might punish the whole human race the rest of our lives. I really hope that people start taking action against that Ethically soulless country

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    A, thanks. Note, I simply report what is in the media as noticed and raise the wider issues. I think it is credible they actually did this, given the circle of researchers. It raises all sorts of concerns, but I would like to hear from one of our bio science folks. You are right thatt here is a question on governance and ethics of doing science which may come back to haunt us. KF

  4. 4
    AaronS1978 says:

    Understood and I hope they do post because I would like to hear their input to

  5. 5
    AaronS1978 says:

    It is worth noting that these types of gene experiments have been done on mice for many years one section of experiments involved the wrinkles of the human brain appearing in a mouse brain, even though they grew the wrinkles, none of them start thinking like humans Or even smarter. There are a few experiments that show we improved pre-existing cognitive function but it didn’t change to human cognitive function it just made it a more efficient mouse. These appears always to be a missing piece to the puzzle.

    And much like in most genetics, a gene is not really truly a determinant but multiple genes working in unison and in concert usually are the determinant

    The other thing is I believe it is often overlooked is the actual biological cell itself has a direct role to play in how it reads the DNA and when articles like these are posted, I feel that this is a factor that is often ignored. The cell itself is the operating system the DNA is the code. Putting in different program that is meant for a different OS might have interesting and negative results.

    Ethically speaking we probably shouldn’t do it because it could lead to a list of other things that could hurt us such as a particular disease that only infected a specific species but now can infect us because it infected one of these genetic hybrids and created a virus within the cell that could recognize us as a potential host because of the possible genes that it absorbed.

    There are other long-term effects that could take place

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Playing God without his knowledge base, wisdom and benevolence is asking for trouble.

  7. 7
    Brother Brian says:

    The big question is, if playing with human genes is immoral, what about genes from other animals? Should we ban all genetic research? Or only that involving human genes? What about the thousands of people, if not millions, who are only alive because of transferring human genes to bacteria to produce proteins necessary for the survival of these people? Should we tell them that they have to die because we shouldn’t be “playing god”. I have two words for that, [SNIP, too suggestive and needless] Which I am pretty sure will get me banned from UD.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Playing with human genes isn’t immoral nor is it “playing God”. Trying to produce a real “Island of Dr. Moreau” would be. But trying to correct the effects of genetic entropy is something we definitely need to look into. Curing diseases, even genetic diseases, is a good thing.

    Also the size of the brain is constrained by the size of the skull. Unless that gene also plays a role in that, a bigger brain would be unexpected.

  9. 9
    AaronS1978 says:

    I am assuming that “F” “G” does not equal “Fun Gummies” but does equal a derogatory four letter word describing a verb in a negative sense towards a particular omnipotent being.

    Implying it is pretty much the same as saying it, As you have delivered the same meaning in a nice neat little package with a little dash of mystery.

    A couple things need to be said though, first of all the technology of gene editing is actually relatively new, in fact the idea of genes is relatively new to begin with starting with Mendel

    I understand and I’m very aware of the life saving techniques used with rna to produce proteins to help people with CLL and other forms of cancer, my mother receives these treatments. I know and understand the benefits of gene therapies. I also know millions of people have lived long long before these technologies started even saving lives and we can continue on without them. I’m not saying we should not explore the options of such technologies but I am also saying they are not a necessity and we have gotten on and lived for thousands of years before them.

    The problem is in such technology can be easily abused and for no apparent reason. Creating a bunch of defective humans or genetically engineering a bunch of animals in the attempt to try to see if our cognition will make them like us is an immoral act. It serves no real benefit other than trying to prove a point, which Richard Dawkins has made that relatively clear with his humanzee. This creature is only to be created so this professional atheist can destroy the soul of Christianity both figuratively and literally, it serves no purpose outside of proving a point. This immoral and an abuse of the technology.

    Second of all I am very much opposed to that type of treatment and genetic engineering of anything. I understand that it could save lives but I also understand that there can be long-term effects that might not be seen at this moment, that might rear their ugly heads 20 maybe 60 years from now

    That’s why I find this comment to be in poor taste “Should we tell the people that you’re going to die because we shouldn’t play God” It really doesn’t justify or prove the point of using or doing this type of research.
    It’s more of a manipulative comment trying to force somebody into a moral dilemma (obviously most people are not going to deny someone life saving medication) but it certainly doesn’t prove any point. As an opposite and equal extreme, one can same the same for the opposite prescriptive. IE “We shouldn’t play God with other living creatures genomes because we could accidental create a fatal mutation in the Species which caused its extinction”
    Simple slip ups in this field can cause the deaths of millions of people if not billions with a virus that was genetically engineered or something that came naturally that sprouted off of our genetic tampering. The other scenario could happen after 100 years of genetic manipulations of the human species, a new virus or other new microbes now sharing the new genes that we created, come into existence some of which we might not be able to fight off. The other possibility is permanent genetic defects that show up way later in a generation because of our meddling.
    In a way, when we mess with the genome, It is similar to introducing a new species to an ecosystem that is not ready to support it. We do not know the impact or the effects that could happen down the line but they can be devastating, and often with proceeded these was good intentions, Hence “the road to hell is paved in good intentions”

    These are all very possible events, and we need to take very real steps to maintain a very strong moral compass when we are dealing with these things. I am not saying that we should not explore possibilities of genetic medicine but what I am saying is we need to be very careful and we can’t step into this willy-nilly screaming “in the name of science” because we really honestly don’t know what we’re doing.

    Science will only ever be as good as the people doing it, and science is a wonderful tool for helping us understand the things we don’t understand, that is why we created the process of science, but when we cross that method of knowledge finding,with the hubris of an arrogant intellectual idiot, that thinks all the things of the past are nothing more than myths and stupidities of more primitive humans, then we run the risk of getting things like nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and making giant mistakes that will haunt us for the rest of our existence.

    So implying ”screw God” because we shouldn’t care about playing God, because of the possibly benefits seems possibly foolish. We should probably humble ourselves before pursuing any more research in the way of genetic engineering. Making monkeys to be like humans because we want to disprove the soul and we want to prove that human cognitive function can be simply attributed to a protein is a needless and dangerous endeavor that could result in our extinction preventing all of those benefits that we would ever discover from the very same research.

    So all I’m saying is proceed with caution we shouldn’t play God because we don’t know how.

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks,

    It is interesting what sparked the sharpness of exchange above:

    KF: Playing God without his knowledge base, wisdom and benevolence is asking for trouble.

    A78 is right:

    all I’m saying is proceed with caution we shouldn’t play God because we don’t know how.

    Some humility, some prudence, some caution — thus, a least regrets decision principle — is therefore well advised.

    A song on Poker as a metaphor for life, once put this . . . I cite as heard on scratchy AM radio decades ago:

    know when to hold
    know when to fold
    know when to walk away
    know when to run
    you never count your money
    sitting at the table
    there’ll be time enough
    for counting
    when the dealing’s
    done
    [See: https://www.lyricsfreak.com/k/kenny+rogers/the+gambler_20077886.html ]

    Let us again cite his cautions:

    A78: I find this comment to be in poor taste “Should we tell the people that you’re going to die because we shouldn’t play God” It really doesn’t justify or prove the point of using or doing this type of research.

    It’s more of a manipulative comment trying to force somebody into a moral dilemma (obviously most people are not going to deny someone life saving medication) but it certainly doesn’t prove any point. As an opposite and equal extreme, one can same the same for the opposite prescriptive. IE “We shouldn’t play God with other living creatures genomes because we could accidental create a fatal mutation in the Species which caused its extinction”

    Simple slip ups in this field can cause the deaths of millions of people if not billions with a virus that was genetically engineered or something that came naturally that sprouted off of our genetic tampering.

    The other scenario could happen after 100 years of genetic manipulations of the human species, a new virus or other new microbes now sharing the new genes that we created, come into existence some of which we might not be able to fight off. The other possibility is permanent genetic defects that show up way later in a generation because of our meddling.

    In a way, when we mess with the genome, It is similar to introducing a new species to an ecosystem that is not ready to support it. We do not know the impact or the effects that could happen down the line but they can be devastating, and often with proceeded these was good intentions, Hence “the road to hell is paved in good intentions”

    Wisdom requires due humility to recognise the potential for unintended havoc.

    We may turn our further thoughts on a premise, that BB intends to persuade us towards the truth and the right as he perceives it. That is, he implies a thesis I have often highlighted here at UD in recent times: our thought-volitional inner life is morally governed. So governed, by KNOWN — repeat, KNOWN (and undeniable) — duties to truth, right reason, prudence, fairness and justice, etc. This, on pain of patent absurdity on the attempted denial (we do not operate on the global premise of who is the most effective manipulative liar). Where, such is attested by the witness-voice of conscience. Which cannot be its grounds, its authentic roots.

    So, what is?

    We here find ourselves facing the IS-OUGHT gap, and post Hume there is only one place it can be bridged on pain of ungrounded ought: the root of reality. We need an inherently good, sound, sufficient root for reality in order for our whole inner life to make sense, an inner life we cannot set aside as inconvenient. Where, it is easy to see that for such a root, there is but one serious candidate. (As this is a philosophical exercise [and not an undue imposition], if you dispute this, simply provide and justify a serious alternative: _________ , addressing comparative difficulties: _________ )

    The candidate is: the inherently good and utterly wise creator God, a necessary and maximally great being, worthy of our loyalty and of the responsible, reasonable service of doing the good that accords with our manifest nature.

    And, it will be readily apparent that when one deals with powerful, potentially destructive ill-understood domains fraught with moral hazards, a due recognition that we are not omnipotent, we are not omniscient, we are not omnibenevolent, would be appropriate. As Cicero summed up, conscience is a law, prudence is a law.

    So, for one, instead of playing heedlessly with gene engineering fire, we should learn from the history of damaging industrial development, spewing all sorts of chemicals into the environment (and into our foods), importing invasive species and the challenges of nuclear technology and should proceed with humility, prudence, soundness. How many times have we been promised sci-tech, technocratic utopias that failed? Failed, with awful consequences and costs?

    It is not for nothing that Hippocrates and others taught us to ponder the duties of the learned professional in society (and environment).

    First, do no harm.

    Second,

    art is long,
    life is short,
    opportunity fleeting,
    judgement difficult.

    The professional must therefore act with due humility and prudence, understanding the doctrine of unintended consequences in a deeply interconnected world. Where, a properly cultivated conscience is a part of the picture. Where, part of that education is and should be, the lessons of our civilisation’s tradition of ethical theism. For, we need to recognise that we are not God.

    Something, that rage at our creator, the source of reality, wisdom and sound moral government, is liable to forget.

    Anger, is a blinding emotion.

    KF

  11. 11
    doubter says:

    AaronS1978 @9

    It seems to me that although you are obfuscating around it, you are still answering in the affirmative Brother Brian’s rhetorical question, “Should we tell them that they have to die because we shouldn’t be “playing god”?”

    Humanity suffers from diseases, as it has in perpetuity. Realistically, the pressure to use the absolutely latest and now available biomedical techniques to produce treatments for disease is too great for such concerns to dictate public policy. I think that modern technological/scientific culture and society are such that controls on this sort of research are likely to be too little and too late. What could happen may happen and we can’t do anything about it.

  12. 12
    AaronS1978 says:

    A couple things in response to what you said actually
    If I come across snarky to you, I don’t mean to. So you know I’m just discussing with you. Often people miss label what I am trying to say and a fight starts. So I’m just going to white flag right now to let you know none of this is meant to be snarky.

    Again I want to point out that the rhetorical question is a moral dilemma which is literally forced upon the other person in an attempt to make them look like a hypocrite and to justify the others point of view. It is a black and white rhetorical question that if you say “yes” you would say no to those people that need the treatment, which makes you into a monster, and if you say “no” I wouldn’t deny them it, this somehow justifies their point of view and makes you look like a hypocrite. It’s a tactical trap and it doesn’t prove a point. It’s just an attempt to win an argument

    Now you say some very simple facts and some very simple statements there are a lot of diseases that humanity faces and we have face them for as long as we have existed. Almost every disease that we fight today has been one that we fought in the past.

    So these medical pressures have existed for a very long time and I understand that people rush to get the first possible treatment to save them. My point for saying this is that this dilemma is nothing new, And reiterating them as an immediate urgency to emphasize the gravity of the situation is inadequate to justify the others point of view.

    Now I would never decline someone’s need for life nor would I tell them that “no I don’t want to help you because I don’t want to play God”. But again this is a rhetorical trap. It is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t question. I find it distasteful. It implies that if I don’t use the most immediate medical technology, ,in this case gene editing or gene therapy, I am telling this person that they need to die. If I say I definitely would allow you to do this then I’m agreeing with you and then we should just do gene editing willy-nilly and that you’re utterly right, And all research for gene editing is 100% justified. And this is the issue with this rhetorical trap.

    The problem is this question ignores the third option. Instead it simply attempts to either make the person that must answer the question look like a monster or a hypocrite.

    The third option is to try to explore and find other treatments to save that individual’s life. To not give up and to try to be creative in some sense to find an actual real answer to the problem that they have. What I am saying is there are other answers out there. One of them might actually be gene therapy.

    This is why I didn’t dismiss this right out of hand
    So I will answer that question as such

    I will do everything in my power to save your life I will look under every stone I will look at every single crack, but I will not play God with your life or something else’s life because I don’t know if it’ll work because I don’t know what I’m doing and if I screw up I might just kill you and everybody else.

    That is why we must be careful and I understand as I stated in a previous post that science is a great research tool to learn what to do. But I also stated very clearly that science is only as good as the people doing it, and there are people playing God just to play God and we shouldn’t do that. There is a line that we all can plainly see and we all know not to cross it and justifying it with “ in the name of science” Or disguising it with the “research is meant to save people” and that’s why we must exercise morality when we are doing this research. Using a rhetorical trap to remove reasoning to be hesitant in doing the research such as “playing God” Is in my personal opinion under handed.

    This reminds me of an argument for stem cell research, by justifying abortion so you can harvest stem cells and anybody who opposed the harvesting of these fetuses for stem cells through abortion was denying people life-giving treatments. Oddly the very idea was hypocritical to begin with because you were affectively trading a life for a life.

    But what was so painfully funny was after all the arguing how the only place we could get good stem cells is from the fetus, another set of doctors found a way to harvest stem cells from the placenta, from the umbilical cord, they even found how to grow stem cells in a petri dish and even harvest them from the skin on your back.

    There is always another way we just have to be willing to try to find it. And I’m not saying that you’re not open minded, but people need to be open minded to trying to find other avenues as well as being open minded to other forms of research, not just one type of research.

    When it comes to gene editing that stuff is scary and dangerous. We definitely need to exercise looking into all the available options and not to cross moral boundaries that could result in very horrible. There is a reason why morals exist. This type of research has implications both moral and physical and they can definitely lead to some very very dark roads and what does need to happen is we need to really start thinking about what we need to do to control and regulate this technology before it gets out of hand and we end up with an extinction event or another world war because someone went from illuminating genetic diseases to creating designer babies

    I might be flapping my jaws into the wind but we really do need to try to do something about that. Sadly I also agree that you’re right that there is almost nothing we can do about it unless we’ve been together to try to do something about it.

    If you are familiar with Wesley Smith he has a piece on this that’s is very similar to what I am saying is well and I agree with him

  13. 13
    doubter says:

    “The problem is this question ignores the third option. Instead it simply attempts to either make the person that must answer the question look like a monster or a hypocrite.

    The third option is to try to explore and find other treatments to save that individual’s life. To not give up and to try to be creative in some sense to find an actual real answer to the problem that they have. What I am saying is there are other answers out there.”

    Do you think that most physicians won’t look high and low for any, absolutely any, treatment that actually works for his patient’s condition? The problem is that despite many decades of dedicated research many diseases still have no cures or at best one treatment type with any real promise. The researchers are looking for something, anything, that works, pushing the envelope scientifically and technologically in every way they can. Of course, the very human profit motive also strongly motivates researchers to look everywhere they can think of, not just into genetic manipulation. It just happens that genetic manipulation techniques are the most promising so far for a lot of disorders.

    The sociological and psychological forces behind this research, starting with fear of suffering and death due to disease, and ending with plain greed, are just too strong for the great risks of this enterprise to actually deter the work.

    And as a practical matter to a practicing physician trying to help his patient, there often or even usually is no “third choice”, especially with cancers where time is of the essence. The patient doesn’t have forever to keep on waiting for the right type of treatment to appear. To save his life something is needed now.

    The rhetorical question doesn’t ignore the “third option”. It recognizes that it isn’t a real option in most cases.

  14. 14
    AaronS1978 says:

    Understood but unfortunately the question is still a rhetorical trap and that is what is used for it doesn’t recognize a third option because of his actual intended purpose is to make a person look like a hypocrite or a monster that is why it’s a binary question. It’s an arguing strategy

    And yes you’re absolutely right human practicality combined with the fact that humans will have a tendency to be selfish and hide certain options from people because the fact that they will not make a profit place more into how awful humanity can be not to the fact that there is no third option. And I agree with you humanity sucks but it’s no excuse not to try. I have watched many a cancer treatment disappear over the years that was very effective but not very profitable

    So this seems more to your point that the glass is half empty my point is the glass is half full I just have to simply disagree I understand what you’re saying I really honestly do and that’s why I have no intention of arguing with you on this but I will state again the rhetorical question pays no heed to other options other than the two and it is simply meant to trap the other individual into either a. making them into a monster or b. a hypocrite

    It doesn’t adequately some up real life and all the millions of different situations that are currently going on it can’t there’s no way it can and that’s why I don’t acknowledge it

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