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.
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.