Sweet Truth?

Deepakshi Kasat

Netflix’s “Sweet Tooth” takes us to a post-apocalyptic world where human-animal hybrid babies are born. Its strange yet relatable storyline developing from a grim virus-hit era (just like ours), unravels some deeper after-effects of a pandemic. From distrust to chaos to fear, the show does require you to keep an open mind. However, apart from the pandemic connection, one important crux of this show and this article is “hybrid species”.

From their role in evolution to acceptance in a world like ours, we have a lot to think about as the world is progressing in surprising directions. While the reel life depicts a tedious struggle for these human-animal hybrid kids for the sake of their plot, let’s take a look at what is happening in real life.

The first monkey-human embryos were created recently where human stem cells were injected in monkey embryos and at least 3 such embryos managed to survive for 19 days post-fertilization. Researchers have managed to successfully grow hybrid embryos of pig-human, cow-humans, and rat-human combinations to name a few in the past. But what’s the need? Their argument remains that these models can be more effective and accurate in drug tests but at this point, they are simply trying to understand the scope of differentiation and how these species communicate with each other; they do not intend to implant these embryos in monkeys. Opposing scientists ask the moral boundary behind such experiments. Whether to classify these cross-species chimeras to be human enough in terms of behavioral and mental capacity?

Yet another daunting reason for trying to create hybrid species is responding to the shortage of human organs for transplant. The US tried creating chimpanzee stem cells in the embryos of monkeys. In Japan, researchers are trying to gather data by trying human rodent/ human-pig combinations to understand the survival of human cells in a supposedly ethical manner. The theory is to reprogram human cells to form any tissue from its primitive state; then introducing these induced pluripotent stem cells into target embryos which would eventually be implanted in a surrogate species. Once fully grown, they can serve as organ donors. This has practically been tested in Japan in 2010 where scientists grew rat pancreases in mice to treat diabetes.

Two interesting observations from lab dish experiments with human-animal cells are:
The competition between cells of different species
The level of advancement in these novel cells as compared to the native ones

While the intent for all these experiments seems in the right place, the results can sometimes be unpredictable. It is better to take baby steps within the boundaries of ethics than to try going ahead of time. Sweet Tooth, unlike mythologies, introduces this concept in a real and relatable world for the first time. What do you think about human-induced chimeric species?

Reference (Jun-21-E1)

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