Parahuman  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

A parahuman or para-human is a human-animal hybrid. Scientists have also done extensive research into the combination of genes from different species, e.g. adding human (and other animal) genes to bacteria and farm animals to mass-produce insulin and spider silk proteins. Note that individual genes can be transplanted between species without the transplantation of whole cells.

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Human-animal hybrids and chimeras

Parahumans have been referred to as "human-animal hybrids" in a vernacular sense that also encompasses human-animal chimeras. The term parahuman is not used in scientific publications. The term is sometimes used to sensationalize research that involves mixing biological materials from humans and other species. It was used in a National Geographic article to describe an experiment in 2003, during which Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs According to Daily Mail, as of 2011, more than 150 human-animal hybrid embryos were created in British laboratories since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

Rationale

There are several reasons for which parahumans or chimeras might be created. The current forms of chimera exist for medical and industrial purposes, e.g., production of drugs and of organs suitable for organ transplantation. Other experiments aim to reveal knowledge about the function of the human body, e.g., by creating mice with a human-like immune system to study AIDS or with a brain incorporating human nerve cells. Restrictions on cloning and stem cell research have made chimera research an attractive alternative.

If a line of parahumans could be created using germline engineering, if they also bred true, and if they were different enough from ordinary humans to be unable to breed with us, then they would qualify as a species. Parahumans created using only somatic genetic engineering would have human children. Another key difference is that a germ-line parahuman would have to be modified before birth, while a somatic parahuman could be an adult human who chooses to be modified. Which one is more ethical is a matter of debate. An argument for the former is that no harm is done to a person born with modified genes because the person would have had no control over their genes in the first place. An argument for the latter being more ethical is that the changes would be made with informed consent.

Ethics

There is no scientific field of parahuman research. Ethical, moral, and legal issues of parahuman research are speculative extensions of existing issues that arise in actual research.

Some transhumanists see this technology as one of many ways to overcome fundamental human limitations, such as disease and aging, and point out the many potential commercial and medical benefits. The debate can also be seen in terms of individual freedom to use germinal choice technology or reprogenetics.

Other ethical issues (shared with genetic engineering in general) involve the legal and moral status of a hybrid individual or race, whether the decision-making power over its creation should lie with governments or individuals, whether a distinction should be drawn between strictly medical treatments (restoring lost function) and those enhancing humans above some "normal" standard, whether medical ethics allow doctors to offer parahuman-related treatments, and whether xenotransplantation poses risks of cross-species disease transfer.

The developmental biologist Stuart Newman applied for a patent on a human-nonhuman chimera in 1997 as a challenge to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Congress on the patentability of organisms. In the United States of America, H.R. 5910 is a House Resolution entitled Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2008. Representative Chris Smith (R, NJ-4) introduced it into the House on April 24, 2008. The same bill was introduced as S.2358 by Sen. Sam Brownback (R, KS) into the Senate on November 15, 2007.

Parahumans in fiction

Science fiction authors sometimes use the term parahuman to refer to distinct "races" of human-like creatures created through genetic engineering. A parahuman created starting from a nonhuman-animal template could be considered a biological uplift, as in the works of David Brin, while a parahuman based more closely on the human form and genome might also be called posthuman or transhuman. The role-playing game Transhuman Space and the related book "GURPS Bio-Tech" use the term parahuman interchangeably with variant human to refer to a wide array of heavily modified racial templates. These range from a "Gilgamesh-Series" resembling normal humans but with increased lifespan; a "Lepus-Series" resembling anthropomorphic rabbits; to a "Tek Rat" described as a mix of human, raccoon, and possum. The television series Dark Angel featured a group of parahumans (referred to in the series as "transgenics") with animal DNA selected to enhance their abilities to serve as supersoldiers. In Chapterhouse: Dune, by Frank Herbert, there is a species called Futar; they are a genetically engineered human/feline hybrid trained to kill the Honored Matres. The TV miniseries First Born dealt with the subject of a geneticist, portrayed by Charles Dance, who created a human-gorilla hybrid. John Scalzi's Old Man's war Series also includes parahumans, where elderly "soldiers" are mentally transferred into a forcegrown body that, though humanoid, has animal characteristics to help it be a better soldier. In Will Self's novel The Book of Dave, set partly in the present day and partly in a post-apocalyptic far future, pig-like parahuman creatures called "motos" feature strongly in the futuristic chapters. It is implied that they are descendents of hybrids created in a genetic laboratory operating in modern-day London. Octavia Butler, in her novel Clay's Ark, has written about an alien disease that causes the children of infected people to be born as quadrupeds with superhuman reflexes. Her later trilogy Xenogenesis explores the topic of human-alien sexuality and cross-breeding.

Parahumans are a useful tool for the science fiction writer, because they offer ways to explore issues of personhood, racism, alienation, religion, and freedom, and to make more plausible the colonization of exotic environments, such as the ocean or planets with non-Earthlike properties.

One famous work involving parahumans (though not referred to as such) is The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Cordwainer Smith's parahuman underpeople (humans derived from animal stock) were an important part of his Instrumentality stories. More recently, Caitlín R. Kiernan, who has described herself as a parahumanist,Template:Citation needed has explored the subject of parahumans in a number of science fiction stories, including The Dry Salvages, "Riding the White Bull", and "Faces in Revolving Souls". John Crowley, in his novel Beasts, centered his plot around lion-human hybrids, with a lone fox-human hybrid acting as a kingmaker. H. P. Lovecraft's short story Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family involves the repercussions of the mating of a white explorer and a white she-ape and their having offspring.

Humor authors such as Lewis Carroll in English and Sukumar Ray in Bengali have had parahuman characters in their writings. More recently, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Maximum Ride, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Blue Submarine No.6 are themed around human-animal hybrids.

In old civilizations, parahuman characters are a crucial part of mythologies such as Hanuman (a combination of monkey and human), Narsimha (a combination of lion and human) and Ganesha (a combination of elephant and human) among Hindus, and Sphinx in Egyptian civilization. As well as Satyrs, Centaurs, and Minotaurs in ancient Greek myths. Enkidu, a main character in the Babylonian poem "The Epic of Gilgamesh" can be considered a parahuman.

In the 2010 horror/sci-fi movie Splice, two scientists create a new organism named Dren ("nerd" spelled backwards) by splicing animal and human DNA. However, the organism turns out to be dangerous. The animal DNA used to create Dren was that of a frog, a kangaroo, a donkey, an insect, a finch-like bird, a chicken, and a plant.

There is a creature called the Adlet, found in Inuit mythology. They are human-like creatures with dogs' legs.

Many superhero comics have characters who might be considered parahuman, such as Beast from the X-Men, Cheetah and Mini from NEW-GEN.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Parahuman" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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