07 June 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 561
The Ohio (US) State Senate has passed legislation banning the creation of any embryo that would contain both human and animal DNA or tissues. Bill 243 proposes to ban the creation of 'human-animal hybrids' (including 'human admixed embryos' as legalised in England and Wales under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008). These entities, employed in stem cell research into serious genetic disease , have become increasingly popular as shortages of donated human eggs have frustrated research progress. If the Ohio bill enters into law any usage of the technology may lead to fines of up to half a million dollars for any who profit from the usage of such entities.
Republican Steve Buehrer introduced the legislation out of concern over the transfer of human genetic material into denucleated animal eggs. The original draft outlawed not just such cloning procedures using animal eggs but also the same procedure using human eggs. Criticism was drawn as the bill drew no distinction between usage of the procedure for therapeutic cloning (where the purpose is purely research driven) and reproductive cloning (where the aim is the creation of living clones). However the bill's author removed this blanket prohibition in an attempt to broaden support for the legislation and to focus it on its key target - stem cell research using mixed animal and human elements.
Explaining the concerns underlying the bill, Mr Buehrer said: 'While thoughts of animal-human hybrids conjure up images of science fiction movies, it is no fantasy that several labs around the world have or are attempting to combine animal and human cells.' The bill lists eight kinds of 'human-animal hybrid' that would be outlawed, including normal human embryos into which animal cells are inserted, zygotes formed of one human and one animal gamete (for instance a human egg fertilised by animal sperm), animal eggs with an implanted human nucleus and any 'nonhuman life form engineered such that it contains a human brain or a brain derived wholly from human neural tissues.'
In addition to the above controls on research the bill also bans the implantation of human embryos into a non-human womb and the implantation of a non-human embryo into a human womb. However the bill explicitly does not prohibit transgenic animals from being created using human genes, for usage in research using animal models or the transplantation of human organs or tissues into animals.
The bill now passes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.