Thursday, September 06, 2007

Human-animal hybrids

William Saletan in Slate reports on the combination of human cells with animal eggs in the UK. The resulting embryo would have 13 animal genes and over 20,000 human genes. The research has been allowed in the UK with the stipulation that the embryos be destroyed within 14 days of their creation.

I recently read Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, and this story reminded me of his description of hybrids. Hybrids are, roughly speaking, the combination of nature and society—or, in this case, subject and object—to form a new entity that isn’t easily quantifiable as either. One of Latour’s arguments about modern culture is that it attempts to categorize all hybrids as either natural or societal, a move that the British government appears to be making here. On the one hand, the number of animal genes is limited by the government to make sure that the embryos aren’t too non-human. But, on the other hand, the embryos have to be destroyed within 14 days of their creation because they aren’t human enough. It looks like Latour called this one.

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