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Yes, scientists created human-monkey hybrid embryos – and destroyed them

An article shared on Facebook claims that a laboratory in China created a human-monkey hybrid in 2019.

“WORLDS FIRST EVER HUMAN-MONKEY HYBRID GROWN IN LAB IN CHINA,” reads the headline on the website Positive True News.

The article says “monkey embryos were genetically modified to create a hybrid embryo” and scientists “then injected the embryo with human stem cells”.

The article was also posted to Facebook, where the platform’s fact-checking system flagged it as potentially false. Could this unlikely story be true?

‘Experiment stopped before embryo born’

The Positive True News article links to the UK’s Independent newspaper. They reported the same story on 3 August 2019, under the headline: “World’s first human-monkey hybrid created in China, scientists reveal.”

According to both articles, the experiment was “an important step forward towards using animals for human organ transplants”.

Human stem cells capable of “creating any type of tissue” were injected into the embryo of a monkey but “the experiment was stopped before the embryo was old enough to be born”, said the Independent.

Spanish scientist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte led the research team from the Salk Institute in the United States and Murcia Catholic University in Spain.

Not first chimera embryos

El País, a Spanish daily newspaper, also reported that no monkey with human cells was born, as the process was stopped long before it was viable. 

For an experiment like this to avoid ethical issues, according to El País, “the scientific community has traditionally set the red line at 14 days of gestation, which is not enough time for the embryo to develop a human central nervous system”. 

All of the chimera embryos were destroyed before the period expired. A chimera is “an organism with genetic material from two or more sources”, according to the Guardian newspaper. 

This was not the first hybrid experiment of Izpisúa Belmonte and his team. 

In 2017 the researchers conducted “the first experiment of human and pig chimeras in the world, although with less success”, as reported by El País, the Guardian, and many other media outlets at the time. 

The article shared on Facebook sounds exaggerated, but it’s true: in 2019, scientists created the first human-monkey embryo in a lab in China. – Taryn Willows


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