Pleeblandia

Thoughts from the front lines

OrganInc: Fact or Fiction?

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Behind Compound walls lies OrganInc Farms, a research facility dedicated to growing human tissue organs in pigoon hosts (or as the scientists might call them, sus multiorganifier). But is OrganInc simply a figment of Atwood’s imagination, or is it based off of a scientific reality?

According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 119,000 people – men, women and children alike – are on the U.S national transplant waiting list. In 2015, only 30,970 people were treated, and the number of people needing an organ transplant is ever growing. With so few organs being donated, research scientists have resorted to implanting human stem cells in animals to tackle this issue.

Biologically speaking, these animal hosts are really called “chimeras,” that is, “an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation.” Chimeric animals have been around for a while – scientists were producing chimeric mice in the 80s, hybridizing two species together, but have only recently begun experimenting with pigs.

Just a few months ago, in January, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies came out with a report detailing the growth of human-pig embryos – the first of its kind. They accomplished this feat by injecting human cells into a pig blastocyst, the earlier form of the embryo, and letting it grow in-vitro. Though the resulting embryo did not live for more than four weeks, Belmonte and his team made a large leap towards the approaching reality of interspecies organ transplants.

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An illustration of the potential process for producing human organs in pigs. (Cell Press)

For the time being, pigoons still only live in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, but with recent advances in animal chimerism and the advent of CRISPR as a gene editing tool, pigoons will soon be a reality. Ethics aside, the need for more organs is and will continue to be a pressing issue for the coming years. 22 people die everyday due to the severe lack of donated organs in circulation. Is modern biology up to the task? One thing is for certain: OrganInc Farms is not as farfetched as it is made out to be.

Read more:

“Scientists Create First Human-Pig Chimeric Embryos” – BBC News

“Scientists create a part-human, part-pig embryo – raising the possibility of interspecies organ transplants.” – The Washington Post

References:

Simone van den Berg, Header photo (pig)

Wu et al., Creating human-pig chimera embryos illustration

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3 thoughts on “OrganInc: Fact or Fiction?

  1. I really do think that growing extra organs in animals for human use is a good idea because I know that the list for patients awaiting organ donation is horribly long. But I don’t agree with the fact that we have no idea how these animals are being treated. More often than not, animals in labs are treated cruelly, kept in cages and tested on without treatment if they get sick. All for research purposes. So while I think organ growth in animals is a good idea, it would be great to see if someday they could accomplish it without animal cruelty being involved.

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  2. Some parts in Oryx and Crake creeped me out, but come to think of it, our own reality is what should be creeping me out the most. You’re right, ‘pigoons’ will soon exist in our world, it’s only a matter of time! Good job on your blog, seriously. I liked how you focused on the subtle truths Atwood incorporated in her novel and elaborated on them. The stats you also showed are jarring — I would’ve never known.

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  3. Great blog post! However, as I have previously mentioned in my blog post, I believe that these animals were not destined to be used by humans. I realize that this technology could represent a major success for transplants but I also believe that we already cage animals and treat them like trash and that this is just a new way of enslaving these living beings. The statistic presented about the 22 people who die every day because of the lack of donated organs is very saddening but I am also crushed by the numbers of animals slaughtered every year. Billions of land and marine animals are killed each year. You might say that this industry wouldn’t be killing animals but I believe it will. The dairy and egg industries are the best examples: it is true that animals are not killed for their milk or their eggs but what do you think happens once they can’t supply the milk or the eggs? They are sent to the slaughterhouse. This is what will happen with these animals. They will be used for these purposes and once they are of no use, they will be killed. If what Atwood describes becomes reality, I believe that many more animal lives will be lost. Obviously, all this is based on the fact that I believe that the life of a pig and the life of a human are equal. Maybe this is very farfetched but I hope that one day we will be able to invent a technology to create organs in order to help humans but also spare animals!

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