Fantasy book and film lovers will come to appreciate the intriguing and fascinating world of mystical myth creatures. Be it the creative imagination of the author or derivation from ancient history and legends, these creatures more often than not struck the awe of the reader and boggles the mind of the logics, stepping out of the borders and lines of the norm. Mermaids, griffins, dragons, unicorns, phoenix, hippogriffs, just to name a few of the common. There are more, of course, and mostly popular due to their incorporation into mainstream media. Man, the Greeks really gets it going. These myths have a certain magnet that it survives through time and is in fact, still one of the muse of people nowadays.
Head and body of a lioness, head of a goat arising from the back and serpent as the tail. That is usual depiction of a fire breathing hybrid also known as the chimera. What’s more frightening than one notorious monster if not a combination of multiple beasts – three in one! But of course, it’s only a mythical creature and as far as stories go, you’d be long using the Floo network before encountering chimera. By the way, legend will have it killed heroically by Bellerophon and Pegasus. One-nil for the good guys!
But wait, though! Over the recent years, there had been discovery of some sort of chimerism. OK, so maybe not as much as a dazzling lion-goat-serpent combo but the idea was there. Wherein there are two different entity inside one being. I am so not talking about possession. Nor split personality or bipolar disorder. Let’s do a quick review. What makes us a person? A unique self, that separates us from one another? Ok, you can say our physical trait for instance. Where did the design come from? Yes, that lengthy, miniscule set of nucleotides of DNA inside every cell holds the patent to our individual bodies. So when they say human chimera exists, it means that inside the human chimera was more than one sets of DNA.
Just imagine the solid system which we catch the criminals by matching their DNAs didn’t work for them. Wouldn’t it be puzzling when the cheek swab didn’t match the blood sample retrieved, and when all the other evidence are pointing at him? You can do that, or just go ahead and watch an episode of CSI, or House. As cool as it may seems on television, these stories are inspired by true events.
Before we proceed to the remarkable discovery an American woman made about herself, let’s make ourselves familiar with the terms Human Chimera, and what it’s all about. By definition, a chimaera is a single organism made of two kinds of genetically distinct cell. The two types of cells may come from separate fertilized eggs – called dispermic chimera, or from separate zygotes- called mosaic organism. For dispermic chimera, it is formed from at least two fertilized eggs or early embryos fused together. Each population of cells keeps its own phenotype (the traits that can be seen) and the resulting organism is a mixture of the two phenotypes.
Well, let’s try and understand this. You know how we learn in Biology class back then, roughly speaking, that a baby is formed when one sperm and one ovum/egg come together, forming a zygote? In the meantime, though, what happens in our mother’s belly are so dark and mysterious, even till now, and by the power of God, there may be more than one ovum, sperm, and the resulting zygotes. Common example, In Vitro fertilization (IVF) are mixtures of eggs and sperms inside test tube, and if the successful fertilization are more than one, get ready to double, triple even quadruple the fun! – Or baby cots, for that matter. In fraternal twins, there are two different ova fertilized by two different sperm, resulting in two zygotes with distinct genome. When they get fused completely, the body will composed of organs made up of different genome – a chimera is born. Be it one zygote is female and the other is male, the result is a hermaphrodite. And if the second zygote fused while the first is already developing, here we have a conjoined twin.
Back to the story of Lydia Fairchild – a woman who almost lost the custody of her children because of the rare DNA results. Married to Jamie, she was heavily pregnant with their third child when they become separated. To support herself and the children she applied for welfare and was asked to run a DNA test to confirm that she was their mother. It took quite a shocking turn – the test confirmed the children were Jamie’s – but not Lydia’s. The results were clear, even after another test was done and things are looking bleak. If she couldn’t prove the kids were hers, she’s on the verge of losing custody of her children. The court, astonishingly, took her for fraud, and was accused of claiming other people’s children and scam. In that vulnerable state – pregnant, accusation and lack legal support, a lawyer who had heard a similar case of Karen Keegan, come to her aid.
Across the globe, a 52-year-old mother was arranged for a kidney transplant, and DNA from her son were cross matched for potential donor. Again, the tests showed the surprising disparity between them two, as if totally unrelated. Luckily, the authorities accepted that he was her son. The two lawyers from both cases gets their head together and try to find the answer to their unsettling problems. It was only after a series of tests done on Karen that they discover she was a form of human chimera.
In the end, the evidence was put before the judge, who ordered samples to be taken from Lydia during childbirth. Again, these showed that there was no apparent DNA link between her and the newborn, who was obviously hers, thus proving the chimera theory. Lydia’s nightmare was almost over, and she and Jamie are now back together. But very little is still known as to why cells fuse to create chimeras in the first place. The condition is often dormant, not affecting people’s external appearance, and only picked up during hospital checks. Who knows how many chimeras are walking amongst us?
Athifah binti Abdul Aziz is a student of Kasr Al Ainy faculty of medicine, Cairo University and a journalist at The Karyawan Unit for PCK.