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Lab-grown human-monkey embryos raise ethical questions

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A new study could advance biomedical research but could also open ‘Pandora’s box’ in terms of ethical concerns.

Scientists have successfully grown monkey embryos containing human cells.

In a paper published in Cell, a research team outlined how it produced what are known as human-monkey chimeras with human stem cells inserted into macaque embryos in the lab.

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte at the Salk Institute in California, who led the team, said the study could help to advance biomedical research at both early and later stages of life.

Chimeras are organisms whose cells come from two or more individuals. The applications for such science includes producing lab-grown human organs, which could help with the supply needs for transplant patients.

Izpisua Belmonte and his team previously created the first human-pig chimera, incorporating human cells into early-stage pig tissue. However, this proved to be unsuccessful as they found that human cells in this environment had poor molecular communication.

In the case of the macaque embryos, the team was able to monitor them in the lab for 19 days before they were destroyed.

According to the study, human cells were detected in 132 chimeric embryos after one day. After 10 days, 103 of the embryos were still developing. Survival then began declining and by day 19, only three chimeras were still alive.

Opening Pandora’s box

While heralded as a major breakthrough, the research has also raised several ethical concerns in the scientific community.

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University of Oxford’s Prof Julian Savulescu, who specialises in bioethics, said the most difficult issue lies in the future. “This research opens Pandora’s box to human-nonhuman chimeras,” he said.

“Before any experiments are performed on live born chimeras, or their organs extracted, it is essential that their mental capacities and lives are properly assessed. What looks like a nonhuman animal may mentally be close to a human. We will need new ways to understand animals, their mental lives and relationships before they used for human benefit.

“Perhaps this will lead us to rethink how animals are treated more generally by humans in science, medicine and agriculture.”

University of Cambridge’s Dr Alfonso Martinez Arias also raised questions about the results of the study.

“The results, in so far as they can be interpreted, show that these chimeras do not work and that all experimental animals are very sick,” he said. “This complicated area in which, as in the case of the CRISPR babies, society should think and discuss before doing experiments.”

Marinez Arias was referring to a Chinese clinical trial that intended to create the first gene-edited babies using CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that boasts potential game-changing benefits as well as concerning side effects.

Following massive backlash, the scientist behind the trial, He Jiankui, defended his decision and said he felt proud of what he had done. He was later sentenced to three years in prison for violating medical regulations.

Izpisua Belmonte, who has previously used CRISPR in his work, acknowledged the ethical concerns around his most recent work with human-monkey embryos, but added that it meets current ethical and legal guidelines.

“As important for health and research as we think these results are, the way we conducted this work, with utmost attention to ethical considerations and by coordinating closely with regulatory agencies, is equally important,” he said.

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I can’t charge my electric car cheaply because I’m too close to an RAF base | Money

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A few months ago I decided to switch energy supplier and moved to Octopus Energy’s Go tariff, principally because it offers cheap electric car charging overnight at a rate of 5p/kWh.

I applied to have the required smart meter installed. But after being given a date, I was later declined on the basis that smart meters cannot work at my address because they interfere with the missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales.

Initially, I thought this was a joke. I have been involved with the construction of hundreds of new homes in Teesside, all of which have had smart meters installed.

Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for the rollout, has confirmed that this is very real, and smart meters installed in the area will not have had their smart capacity turned on.

I was told that a new meter is being worked upon and will eventually replace those already installed.

Meanwhile, I am having to charge my car at a premium rate of 16.76p/kWh which is costing me about £26 more a week than it would be on the Go tariff.

AM, Guisborough

Given that your house is more than 20 miles from the RAF base in question, I, too, was amazed that this could be an issue, but it is – and also in other areas close to bases.

Smart Meter GB has confirmed this is the case and says it is working on a solution – a communications hub that will enable people living near sensitive RAF sites to use smart meters.

It says these will be offered to customers “in the coming months”.

It adds those in the affected area, who had already had smart meters installed should be able to have the hubs retrofitted.

Meanwhile, Octopus has come up with a solution for your problem. It has offered to add you to the trial of these new meters, which, in turn, will allow you to go on the Go tariff.

It says it hopes to install your new meter before Christmas. It has also said that if you get the log from your charging firm, showing how much electricity you have used for the car since the switch took place, it will retroactively apply the savings that you would have gained had the smart meter worked from the start – a generous offer.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include a phone number. Letters are subject to our terms: gu.com/letters-terms

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China’s Yutu rover spots ‘mysterious hut’ on far side of the Moon

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Cube-shaped object is probably just a rock. Yutu will check it out anyway

China’s Moon rover, Yutu 2, has sent images of a strangely geometric object.…

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Strikepay struck gold at National Startup Awards 2021

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Strikepay, founded by fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, scooped the top award for its fast-growing cash-free tipping tech.

Irish fintech company Strikepay has scooped the top prize at this year’s National Startup Awards.

The start-up, previously called Strike, was founded in 2020 to enable cash-free tipping without the need for a payment terminal or a new app on a customer’s phone.

Its founders, fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, raised €625,000 in seed funding earlier this year and said they intended to seek a further €6.5m in investment by the end of 2021.

Strikepay has already begun acquiring and collaborating with other companies to bolster its product offering. In June, it acquired UK payments rival Gratsi and in April it appointed former Just Eat exec Edel Kinane as its chief growth officer.

Earlier in the year, it teamed up with Camile Thai Kitchen to enable contactless tipping for food delivery drivers and partnered with mobility company Bolt to bring its cashless tipping technology to taxis in Dublin.

Strikepay was one of several winners at the awards ceremony, which was livestreamed last night (2 December).

Other winners included health-tech start-up Stimul.ai, customer analysis tech business Glimpse, and sheep monitoring start-up Cotter Agritech, which has been participating in a new accelerator programme at University College Dublin.

As well as taking the top award, Strikepay also won Best Fintech Startup.

This year marked the 10th year of the National Startup Awards. The event was sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Microfinance Ireland, Sage, Cronin Accountants and McCann Fitzgerald.

Last year’s top award was given to drone delivery service Manna. The start-up had been working with companies such as Tesco, Just Eat and Camile Thai to test its drones, and has seen further growth since then.

The full list of winners at the 2021 awards, in order of gold, silver and bronze, are:

Startup of the Year 2021

Strikepay

Early Stage Startup

Imvizar, CyberPie, The Fifth Dimension

Emerge Tech Startup

Xunison, Helgen Technologies, LiveCosts.com

Fintech Startup

Strikepay, ID-Pal, Itus Secure Technologies

Food and Drink Startup

Fiid, SiSú, Thanks Plants

Social or Sustainable Startup

Altra, Peer, Fifty Shades Greener

Product and Manufacturing Startup

Cotter Agritech, Orca Board, Filter

E-commerce and Retail Startup

FinalBend, The Book Resort, Nufields

Tech Startup

Glimpse, LegitFit, Examfly

Medtech Startup

Stumul.ai, SymPhysis Medical, Bonafi

Covid Pivot or Response Startup

Zoom Party/Find A Venue, KSH Group, Streat School

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