I was doing some research on cross-species hybrids for a short story when I came across this article about human mini brains growing inside rat bodies.
Scientists at Yale University have used stem cells to grow mini versions of human brain tissue in lab animals. These mini brains, known as organoids, even connected to the circulatory and nervous systems of the rats involved in the experiment. They also transferred blood and nerve signals between the host rat and the implanted human brain cells – an unprecedented achievement.
So the big question is: are these organoids conscious in the way humans are conscious? Are they capable of thought and speech?
At this stage, it appears the answer is no. The whole human brain has not been grown within a rat – just two kinds of brain tissue.
But what if…
What if the fusion of your brain cells into the rat’s system became integrated enough to awaken a human-like consciousness? Would the rat still be a rat with a human brain? Or would it be a human with a rat’s body?
What if you integrated only certain functions of the human brain? What if you had a big personality without intelligence? What if you had intelligence without emotions?
Then what if you could translate this to other species? What if you could grow your human brain cells into a functioning, conscious organism within, say, a black mamba? Or a Jaws-style shark? Or the aggressive saltwater crocodile? Can you imagine them with the human brain abilities of thinking and organising combined with the human tendency towards annihilating whatever threatens their existence (or even their comfort)?
Or what if you could grow a loving female black widow spider by stimulating human brain responses towards preserving our mates rather than eating them?
Or what if you could make mosquitoes care for other species by engaging the part of the human brain responsible for empathy… the way some humans love animals? What could that do to reduce sickness and deaths from malaria – one of the biggest killers of humans in history?
What if you could give chimpanzees or gorillas the functions to carry out what’s usually considered to be menial tasks? Imagine sitting down at your favourite restaurant and being served by Cory the chimpanzee who can take your order via iPad, bring out your meal – and be trusted not to eat it himself.
Or what if you didn’t need an actual human to direct a team of horses in harness because they have the human ability to work as a team to complete a job? Or would such scenarios backfire on us and simply result in a human-brain led revolt of primates and beasts of burden against actual human dominance?
Of course, scientists are a long way from the reality of any such scenarios. But it raises interesting questions of what it means to be human and what would be the rights accorded to a creature with a human-like consciousness.