The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment aimed at criminalizing participation in research that creates certain “chimeras,” or human-animal hybrids, with the expectation that the federal government could lift a moratorium on funding such projects. All Democrats rejected the amendment that would ban such aberrations in the world of science.

48 Republicans supported the measure in a completely partisan vote while the 49 against included 47 Democrats and two left-leaning independents, Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King, on Thursday, May 27, Fox News reported.

“We shouldn’t need to clarify in law that creating animal-human hybrids or ‘chimeras’ is ethically unthinkable, but sadly the need for that very clear distinction has arrived,” said Sen. James Lankford, (R-Okla.), who co-sponsored the bill with Senators Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.). 

For his part, Senator Braun said, “Human life is distinct and sacred, and research that creates an animal-human hybrid or transfers a human embryo into an animal womb or vice versa should be completely prohibited, and engaging in such unethical experiments should be a crime.”

The legislation targeted any public or private laboratory attempting such experiments, imposing fines of up to $1 million or the amount equal to twice the gross pecuniary gain. It also included up to 10 years in prison for those directly responsible for the crime.

Thursday’s vote came in the context of a growing debate over the scientific ethics of certain research, such as the use of fetal tissue or the creation of human-animal hybrids.  

In mid-April, news broke that a group of scientists had successfully grown monkey embryos containing human cells for the first time, becoming the biggest breakthrough in such controversial research, prompting urgent treatment of the proposed amendment that was ultimately rejected by Senate Democrats.

The results of the experimental work were published on April 15 in the journal Cell 1. According to the report, the team injected monkey embryos with human stem cells and observed how they developed. 

The human and monkey cells divided and grew together in a laboratory dish, and at least 3 embryos managed to survive up to 19 days after fertilization. “The overall message is that each embryo contained human cells that proliferate and differentiate to different extents,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a developmental biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and one of the researchers who led the experiment.

This same team of scientists in 2017, reported on a series of other hybrids created between pig embryos grown with human cells, cow embryos grown with human cells, and rat embryos grown with mouse cells 

Advocates of such studies argue that they could provide better models for testing drugs and be used to grow human organs for transplantation.

However, detractors question the need for such experiments, especially with closely related primates. Putting at risk the natural and moral line that separates humans from other animals.

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