When cells-but not DNA-from two or more genetically distinct individuals combine to form a new individual, the result is called a chimera. Though chimeras occasionally occur in nature, scientists have produced chimeras in a laboratory setting since the 1960s. During the creation of a chimera, the DNA molecules do not exchange genetic material (recombine), unlike in sexual reproduction or in hybrid organisms, which result from genetic material exchanged between two different species. A chimera instead contains discrete cell populations with two unique sets of parental genes. Chimeras can occur when two independent organisms fuse at a cellular level to form one organism, or when a population of cells is transferred from one organism to another. Chimeras created in laboratories have helped scientists to identify developmental mechanisms and processes across species. Some experiments involving chimeras aim to provide further knowledge of immune reactions against disease or to create animal models to understand human disease.
Karl Oskar Illmensee studied the cloning and reproduction of fruit flies, mice, and humans in the US and Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Illmensee used nuclear transfer techniques (cloning) to create early mouse embryos from adult mouse cells, a technique biologists used in later decades to help explain how embryonic cells function during development. In the early 1980s, Illmensee faced accusations of fraud when others were unable to replicate the results of his experiments with cloned mouse embryos. Illmensee also worked with human embryos, investigating how embryos split to form identical twins.
Beatrice Mintz is a brilliant researcher who has developed techniques essential for many aspects of research on mouse development. She produced the first successful mouse chimeras and meticulously characterized their traits. She has worked with various cancers and produced viable mice from the cells of a teratoma. Mintz participated in the development of transgenic mice by the incorporation of foreign DNA into a mouse genome. Her techniques have been widely applied to other studies of mouse development and are so common that many of the publications that utilize her techniques no longer remember to cite the source.
The paper "Formation of Genetically Mosaic Mouse Embryos and Early Development of Lethal (t12/t12)-Normal Mosaics," by Beatrice Mintz, describes a technique to fuse two mouse embryos into a single embryo. This work was published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology in 1964. When two embryos are correctly joined before the 32-cell stage, the embryo will develop normally and exhibit a mosaic pattern of cells as an adult. Mosaics were easily characterized by mouse fusions from embryos of different colors; this produced clearly visible color patterns identifying the alternate cell types. Mintz referred to the fused mice as mosaic or later as allophenic, but they are more commonly known today as chimeras.