Say hello to Roku, Hex, and Chimero, three adorable rhesus monkey infants who have recently stepped into the Internet limelight. Aptly named, each of these tiny mammals was concocted early in fetal development by mixing the cell lines of up to six genetically distinct progenitor individuals. By scientific definition, these little guys are what we call engineered chimera.
The term chimera originated in ancient Greek mythology millenia before it was co-opted for modern scientific jargon. The Greek Chimera, in fact, was a terrible fire-breathing creature. Depicted as a lioness with a goat’s head protruding from her back and a snake for a tail, she was related to other (perhaps more famous) Greek mythological monsters, including Cerberus and the Lernaean hydra.
Western scholars also apply the term chimera to many beasts in ancient Chinese mythology. Depictions of the Qilin, for example, date back to the 5th century BC. While the Qilin’s construction has been altered slightly throughout the centuries, all Qilin are shown with a single horn on the forehead, a body covered in scales, and four hoofed feet. Other Chinese chimera include the Bixie and Tianlu, both of which were winged beasts.
While these early chimeric forms were mythological constructions of disjointed body parts merged into Frankensteinesque creatures, today’s chimera are a very real scientific sensation. Yet Western culture largely still associates chimera with the ungodly and unnatural. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
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