Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Wednesday's Strange History - Humanzee!

It's going to get weird, isn't it?
My question this week comes from Mark in Red Deer, Alberta. Mark asks about an experiment he heard about in his 20th Century Russian history class. "There was a project where a human was grafted onto a chimp, or bred with one or something like that. It was some crazed Russian experiment sometime in the early 1900s to make a super army of apes. Any non-google info on it?"

Heck yes, Mark. This weird Island of Dr Moreau tale is true, but not quite the way you recall.The primary researcher was Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (1870-1932), a Soviet biologist who was a pioneer in artificial insemination for domestic animals. He set up the world's first centre for artificially knocking up horses in 1901. This guy is important because so many of our current livestock is created and eaten because of Ivanov's innovations.
If you want me to thank the guy for bypassing my sex life, forget it.
But things got mad scientist crazy after 1910. Ivanov was already thinking about the possibility of human and chimp hybrids as he knew they were genetically close to each other, thanks to German scientist Hans Friedenthal's work, and confirmed later on with DNA research. (Personally I though my family were related to gorillas). He took matters into his own...hands...and applied for research funding for the project. Because he was a respected scientist, and the USSR formed in 1922 was beginning a hyper-love phase of scientific enquiry, Ivanov received the money and use of Institut Pasteur’s facility in French Guinea in Western Africa. He began his artificial insemination experiments in March, 1926 with no results. Nothing he did worked, and reports filtered back to the homeland that he had tried to inseminate African women with the chimp sperm. Other reports state he did also try with Russian women, with no results.

Super racist and sexist colonialism, right little buddy?
 This report may have been true or fabricated, because Ivanov was now on the wrong side of the political-science battle. He and the other geneticists hoped that Ivanov’s research could lead to a better understanding of what qualities to choose for in the emerging ideal of eugenics. Stalin and his minion scientists rejected genetic research as bourgeois and pushed for the study of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Ivanov lost big time, he was shipped off to Kazakhstan where he died in 1932.

Contrary to some misguided reporting (looking at you, creationist), there is no evidence at all that Ivanov or Stalin ever tried to create ape-man super-warriors.This strange report came about when creationists tried to link communism with evolutionary theory, thereby disproving it in their minds.

For more reading on Soviet Science, may I recommend Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars by Ethan Pollock, this great article from Scientific America,

Hope that helps you sleep at nigh, Mark from Red Deer!

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