17.01.34: FOUR ANIMAL RIGHTS activists appeared in court yesterday charged with illegally implanting human genes into ape embryos in an effort to make them more like humans.
A police raid on a laboratory in Wales this month uncovered two ape-human hybrids, known as Gilbert and George, whose brains were twice the size of those of normal chimps. They had been born from embryos implanted with the genes that trigger human beings' slower but longer brain development.
The accused claimed that they were attempting to force the United Nations to grant human rights to ape species.
A spokesman for the animal rights activists said: "It is human vanity that dictates that the only way to save endangered species is by genetically engineering their brains so that they resemble ours more closely. We demand that the UN recognise their political rights."
Psychogeneticists have pointed out that while most of the genes that produce human social intelligence are found in chimps too, only 1,000 of the 3,000 genes necessary for human language are among them. "Though I condemn the ethics of this case," says Professor Jack Ketch of Birmingham's neurogenetic unit, "I would love to examine Gilbert and George. They show quite good abstract reasoning abilities, although they can't talk. This could tell us a lot about consciousness."
Authorities are still debating whether Gilbert and George should be lodged in a hostel or a zoo.
To coincide with the trial, another animal rights activist group, ApeFront, has put out a statement claiming that it plans to genetically engineer the bodies and faces of two chimps so that they look more human.
"Anti-ape prejudice is based more on differences in appearance than differences in mental ability," it claimed. "Otherwise, scientists would be performing medical experiments on subnormal humans."
While there have been attempts to create human-chimp hybrids in the past, it is only recently that genetics specialists have been able to locate all the genes involved in complex features such as intelligence and facial appearance. JB