Friday, June 28, 2013

Almost Great Moments in Science

Let's take a moment to celebrate the uncommon genius of  Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov.

What did Professor Ivanov do, you well may ask?

He was the first man to attempt to create a human/ape hybrid using artificial insemination.

Wikipedia calls this proposed beast a 'humanzee'. While this is pretty good, I personally would prefer 'humangatan', but I'll take either.

So how does one attempt to create such a monstrosity, well may you ask?
On February 28, 1927, Ivanov inseminated two female chimpanzees with his own sperm. On June 25, his son inseminated a third chimpanzee with his sperm. 
This guy is really trying to give Giles Brindley a run for the money in the stakes of 'most outrageous science experiments conducted on oneself'.
The Ivanovs left Africa in July with thirteen chimps, including the three used in his experiments. They already knew before leaving that the first two chimpanzees had failed to become pregnant. The third died in France, and was also found not to have been pregnant.

So putting human sperm into female chimps wasn't doing the trick. Did he just pack up and call it quits then? Oh no he did not!
Upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1927, Ivanov began an effort to organize hybridization experiments at Sukhumi using ape sperm and human females.... In the spring of 1929 the Society set up a commission to plan Ivanov's experiments at Sukhumi. They decided that at least five volunteer women would be needed for the project.
Great news, comrade sisters! The Party has selected you to 'volunteer' to be impregnated by a chimp. For the glory of the Soviet Union!

Okay, those women would have won hands down the 'human self-experimentation award'. 
However, in June 1929, before any inseminations had taken place, Ivanov learned that the only postpubescent male ape remaining at Sukhumi (an orangutan) had died. A new set of chimps would not arrive at Sukhumi until the summer of 1930.
Given that you haven't heard of humanzees, you can probably guess that things didn't work out.
In the course of a general political shakeup in the Soviet scientific world, Gorbunov and a number of the scientists involved in the planning of the Sukhumi experiments lost their positions. In the spring of 1930, Ivanov came under political criticism at his veterinary institute. Finally, on December 13, 1930, Ivanov was arrested. He was sentenced to five years of exile to Alma Ata, where he worked for the Kazakh Veterinary-Zoologist Institute until his death from a stroke on 20 March 1932. 
Lame. You can always rely on the commies to spoil everybody's fun.

This whole thing is apparently not as wacky as you may think:
In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg. Bedford's paper also stated that human spermatozoa would not even attach to the zona surface of non-hominoid primates (baboon, rhesus monkey, and squirrel monkey), concluding that although the specificity of human spermatozoa is not confined to man alone, it is probably restricted to the Hominoidea.
Okay, so humaboons and humonkeys are out, but humibbons might be a possibility. How is nobody investigating this?

Frankly, I think there should be way more research into creative mixed breeds of animal. Consider some of the awesomeness we already know is out there:

File:Liger couple.jpg

Grolar Bears (or Pizzly Bears, if you prefer):


I think to stimulate interest, these need to be referred to as 'mashup animals'. Sure, the purists at the zoo think this kind of thing is an abomination. Tell it to Charles Darwin, you ninnies! Do you think nature cares about your foibles? Grolar bears occur in the wild, for crying out loud.

The singular advantage of the humanzee, however, is the possibility of a hilarious spectacle whereby earnest people debate whether current law requires that the humanzee be allowed to vote. At which point universal suffrage will have jumped the shark even more than you already thought was possible.

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