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Cases of Real Frankenstein Experiments
Frankenstein was a story ahead of its time that horrified a generation and attempted to teach us what happens when science goes wrong. But what if I were to tell you that it wasn't a story of pure fiction? What if I were to tell you that mad scientists have been conducting crazy, gruesome, bizarre Frankenstein-like experiments for years? Would you believe me if I told you about a man and his two-headed dogs? Would you cringe at the idea of a total head transplant of a monkey? How far is too far? And where will our obsession with cheating death lead?
Johann Conrad Dippel was a man who may or may not have actually inspired the writing of Frankenstein. He was an interesting character... a bit of a recluse who walled himself up in Castle Frankenstein. He was a man of high learning but at the time science was in its infancy and alchemy still ruled. As he wandered about the castle at night he would surround himself with dead animals which he would perform ghastly experiments on. Sadly he didn't appear to keep too many records so we may never know what he did but we do know that he used the flesh, bones, and bits of these animals to invent Dippel Oil. He claimed it was The Elixir of Life, something alchemists had been chasing for years, something that could prolong life indefinitely. Dippel was also a Christian man and theologian and claimed his potions and experiments could exorcise demons and transfer souls from one being to another with the use of a funnel. He was a particularly outspoken man and after claiming he could live to be 135 years old he died a year later, his elixir having failed him.
In the 1780's Luigi Galvani was the first to discover that electricity could make muscles move. It was an accident and there are several different stories about what happened but the basic gist of it is that he was experimenting on a dead frog's leg when an electrical spark hit it. To his shock it twitched. This started a lifelong fascination with not only him but many others who felt that electricity might be able to reanimate dead things.
Giovanni Aldini was the nephew of Galvani and he continued the research with his own experiments but he wasn't content just to play with frogs. He wanted human cadavers and that's what he got with George Forster who was hung for the crime of murder. Forster was stripped, put on a table in an operating theater, and in front of a large audience Aldini approached, charges in hand, and inserted conducting rods into the murder's rectum. Where else would a conducting rod go? The corpse punched the air, kicked ferociously, and when additional conducting rods were applied to his face he winced and one eye popped open. Much of the audience fled in horror believing he'd been brought back to life and would have to be executed again.
Finally Andrew Ure, the mad butcher of Ireland, decided to bring these experiments to an explosive conclusion. Although his hanging victim had a broken neck and had been completely drained of blood he still thought he could bring him back by making him a human battery. On November 4, 1818 he inserted a conducting rod into the man's neck and hip and attached it to a battery. The corpse flew into uncontrollable convulsions, nearly kicking over an assistant. Again, the audience was horrified but Ure wasn't done. Next he used his magic currents to make the lungs expand and contract. And if that wasn't eerie enough he then attacked the face which contorted and grimaced and made such expressions that people would be forever scared by looking upon them. Several people lost their lunches, Ure probably lost some credibility. The man didn't reawaken from his death state.
So where did this all bring us? Well in 1930 someone finally achieved the impossible. William B. Kouwenhoven invented a machine that could shock the heart back to life. It was the first heart defibrillator, still in use today.
All Stitched Up
Everyone loves a puppy but what's better than a puppy? According to Vladimir Demikhov the answer to that would be a puppy with two heads. Two heads are better than one right? He thought so and in 1954 he did a head transplant on a dog. The problem was the dog already had a head so he stitched the second, now bodyless puppy, right to the whole dog. As bizarre as this was he wasn't the first to try this. He was preceded by Professor A. G. Konevskiy who was planning to push forward the new science of organ transplants by taking the heart of a puppy and placing it inside a dog. The puppy however was struck down by a car damaging its internal organs. Rather than wasting the opportunity he ditched his heart idea and just took the puppy's head instead, morbidly grafting it to the other dog. The reason Demikhov got the notoriety for his later similar two-headed dog is the fact he did the surgery eighteen more times and was very public about it. He even showed onlookers how the puppy head would lap at a dish of milk even though it needed nothing to sustain itself anymore. The audience looked back in horror as the milk drizzled down the puppy's detached esophagus and splattered back onto the table.
Sergei Bryukhonenko was the man that made the above dog experiment possible by starting the whole dog head thing. He was more interested in keeping the dog's head alive without the body. He'd detach the head from the body and hook it up to the first ever heart and lung machine. The heads would stay alive long enough for him to show audiences that it was still functioning as a living animal. He'd hit the table with a hammer and it'd flinch, he'd feed it cheese and it would eat it only to have it topple out of its open throat. A soviet propaganda film was created to elevate the success of the research. With clever edits and bold lying on the narrator's part it made the experiments look more successful and humane than they really were. It first shows a dog's head responding to stimuli without its body and then shows another dog being drained of blood before being brought back to life where it showed it happily frolicking about. The truth of the matter is you can't drain an animal of all its blood (or reattach its head) and have it be OK. The dogs that lived through this were left blind and severely brain damaged, shuffling instead of walking, they rarely lived past a few months. The headless dogs on the other hand remained as they were until death took them a few minutes later.
All this made way for actual head transplants, that is a head put in the place of another head. This wasn't done on dogs though, it was monkeys who got to be the dubious volunteers. Robert J. White, an American scientist, felt that people could live forever if only their brains could be perpetually implanted onto younger bodies. Who knows if he bothered to ask where those bodies would come from or why their original brain wasn't included. Either way he went on with his experiment and sacrificed one monkey in order to use its body with a new head. He successfully attached the new head but was unable to connect the nerves. In effect the monkeys were alive but paralyzed from the neck down. Obviously this made the monkeys a little testy and upon waking up they reacted by moving one of the few things they still could - their mouths - and tried to bite their handlers. Go monkey! There were enough of these experiments conducted that the monkeys went from living a few days to living until they were euthanized many days later. That being said they never did manage to make nonparalyzed monkeys. That is probably for the best. Imagine the mental anguish of waking up in the wrong body.
The film presented below is Sergei Bryukhonenko's propoganda film about bringing dogs back to life. It starts showing a dog's heart and lung working outside the dog and at 3 minutes and 16 seconds in it will show the decapitated head of a dog responding to stimuli. The film continues to show a dog completely exsanguinated (drained of all its blood) before having it pumped back in and brought back to life. Even being made in 1940 it's a bit difficult to watch so be forewarned.
In Greek mythology a chimera is a hideous beast with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. Occasionally it also can be seen with wings. It seems that man has always had a fascination with crossing various animals to make hybrids. Of course for most of our history we were only able to do this with very similar species. A donkey and a horse can create a mule for example. Sheep and goats can interbreed as well as the occasional pheasant chicken cross. Many of these were probably accidents but by the time the aristocracy came to power in Europe they weren't playing with farm animals anymore. Instead they were breeding lions and tigers together as well as dogs and wolves and many other exotic dangerous crosses. This was such a common practice that when the first giraffe was imported into France people thought it was a cross between a leopard and a camel. However so many hoaxes were portrayed that when the first taxidermied platypus was shipped to Europe everyone thought it was just a grotesque joke - an egg laying mammal with a duck bill and feet! Preposterous!
In today's modern world we have the technology to cross anything we want to with the help of isolated DNA. So what are we crossing? Well for one we are putting jellyfish genes into just about every lab animal you can think of. Why? The gene we are interested in is the gene that makes the jellyfish glow and when that DNA is put into another living animal it can either make the whole animal glow or just one organ, whichever the scientist is trying to go for. Currently we have glowing rats, mice, rabbits, fish, and monkeys to name a few. The glowing gene can highlight things that are wrong in the animals such as defective heart or lungs.
If crossing a jellyfish with a domestic animal isn't weird enough how about crossing a goat with a spider? The strongest known natural fiber in the world compared to its weight is by far the silk of a spider. If spider silk could be harvested like caterpillar silk we could make extremely light weight bullet proof vests and ropes that could stop an aircraft. The problem is spiders aren't the best candidates for domestication. Although we can harvest their silk we can only do so by strapping one spider down at a time and pulling out its silk with tweezers. This is a time consuming process and it takes a lot of space and money considering spiders aren't social like caterpillars. They have to be housed singly or they'll eat each other. So what is the solution? Add the DNA of a spider to the mammary glands of a goat. That way the goat will produce the raw proteins needed to make spider silk whenever she's milked.
Another big issue today is the lack of organ donors needed to supply demand in the human community. One answer to this would be to grow pigs with human DNA that grow one human organ a piece. That way when a heart is needed a pig can be dispatched and all will be well. Of course this brings up the ethical issues of whether or not it's a morally OK thing to do to kill a pig to save a human life and is it OK to make a pig somewhat human. People can feel free to disagree on this one as there's no clear-cut common answer.
In the early 1900s scientists started to look into one of the ultimate taboos. Could they create a half-man half-beast? By this time we knew we could only breed similar species so apes were chosen for the experiment. We weren't really sure which apes we shared the most DNA with so several different kinds were used in 1924 when Ilya Ivanovitch got a $10,000 grant to do his little cross breeding project. He held the racist belief that black men were closer related to apes than his own white race so he used some donations from local Africans to artificially inseminate 3 chimpanzees. Not surprisingly they didn't become pregnant. He felt that if he could reverse the process he might have more luck but what woman would volunteer her womb to carry a hybrid baby? There was an easy answer to that - African women who would have no idea they were being inseminated! Perfectly ethical. Or at least so he thought until he was booted out of Africa and depleted of his funds. Back in Europe he found a white woman who was a genuine volunteer. This is where the records stop. Whether or not the poor women was inseminated with chimpanzee sperm or not we'll never know. By this time Ivanovitch's proposal to coyly inseminate unknowing African women had reached to higher powers and the country was not happy with him. The studies stopped.
Meanwhile the quest to create a Humanzee continued. There were whispers about American scientists trying the same, though they claimed no babies resulted a few said they had. To make matters more confusing Italian scientist Brunetto Chiarelli claimed that in 1987 female chimpanzees created viable embryos with human sperm. He says the embryos were never brought to term because of the political ramifications. Would a half man half ape have the rights of an ape or the rights of a man? Where would he fit in society? Concerned about these issues Stuart Newman and Jeremy Rifkin filed for a patent on the Humanzee in 1997. Had they succeeded they planned on using the patent to make sure no one ever created one but seeing as it failed there is always the possibility that they may have been made in the past, present, or future.
The Ultimate Feminist Challenge
Frankenstein was a wonderful story but it had a moral which many fail to recognize. You see Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was far more educated than most of the women of her day and she held some very strong and sometimes radical beliefs, among them was a fervent support of feminism. In her story a monster is created when a man tries to create life all by himself taking women out of the equation. Of course everything goes wrong and he sees the consequences, but what about today? With technological progress we don't always need a woman or her womb to create life anymore. Does this mean bad things will follow? Lets take a peek at some of these reproductive experiments and find out.
We should probably start a long time ago when science was sort of halfway between cause and effect and magic. In the 1600's alchemists believed you could make a homunculus, or a tiny soulless human, without the use of a woman (who were largely believed to have no role in reproduction other than being an incubator with which sperm magically turns into a baby all by itself.) The recipe is well known and any of you morbid people out there can try it for yourself. First it called for the semen of a man to be placed in a glass jar and buried under horse dung for forty days at which point it will have grown past its fetal stage and be an absolutely tiny (but soulless) infant. However in order for it to grow up into a tiny man you must feed it human blood for another forty days. I'm not entirely sure this experiment wasn't passed around in medieval texts as some sort of bizarre practical joke or hazing ritual. Who knows. Maybe this is where the tooth fairy came from.
In 1996 the world looked on with a mix of horror and wonder when Dolly the sheep was introduced to the world. She was a sheep born to a mother who wasn't bred. A virgin birth, of sorts, no male required. This is the opposite of Shelley's fear but it did happen and it wasn't the only time. Since Dolly many thousands, if not millions, more lab animals have been cloned through the use of science. Cloning is done by inserting the DNA of an animal into the emptied out egg cell of another. Its not a perfect process - clones will not be 100% the same animal (it's more like 98%) but its still interesting. Even more interesting is the idea that using this technology we can also create embryos using the parts of two eggs, perhaps giving hope to maternal lesbians across the world. No such technology exists for sperm. Sorry guys, but if you still want a part in the process don't mourn. Scientists feel that male pregnancy could be a wave of the future. You see a baby can form in all sorts of areas in the body besides the womb. In women this is called an ectopic pregnancy when it gets lost and attaches itself to a fallopian tube or in some cases an internal organ or the abdominal wall. These pregnancies are never viable because the baby can't grow in a fallopian tube without it bursting, similarly they can't leech off an internal organ without killing the mother. However if you could find a viable space within a man's abdomen to place a lucky little fetus its not impossible for him to carry it to term and then get a C-section because obviously the baby is not going to have an exit at that point. No one's tried this yet - and I don't know of any plans of actually doing so - for now it remains in the realm of theory and female fantasy.
Science Then & Science Now
So what does all this mean? We've seen crazy things in this article and not all of it is particularly insightful to humanity. Has science gone too far? Where will it go in the future? And who is going to be the next Frankenstein? Only time will tell.