In A First, Chinese Scientists Clone Monkeys. Will Humans Be Next?

So far the monkeys are growing fine. Scientists say they will be useful for further medical research.

Scientists have successfully cloned two monkeys in China, using the method that produced Dolly the sheep nearly 20 years ago.

The astonishing development is being hailed a step toward “copying” humans or human cloning in the future. Researchers believe the breakthrough could improve medical research into human diseases and help in finding treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other incurable illnesses.

The two monkeys, Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, were born at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai and are growing fine, so far. It took the scientists years of research to implement a cloning technique called the "somatic cell nuclear transfer," aka SCNT, to produce the monkeys from a non-embryonic cell.

It took 127 eggs to clone the mammals. DNA was taken from a macaque fetus cell, put in an egg and fertilized artificially to form an embryo, later born to a surrogate mother. Another pair which was created from the DNA of an adult failed to survive.

"Humans are primates. So (for) the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken," said Muming Poo of the Shanghai research team.

"The reason ... we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, for human health. There is no intention to apply this method to humans."

Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong are the most human-like animals to be created to date through “true cloning” — effectively carbon-copying the DNA of a single individual.

The accomplishment is attributed to reprogramming the genes of the cloned embryos to allow them to develop properly in the womb. 

Since Dolly’s birth in 1996, scientists have cloned almost two dozen kinds of mammals. They have even created human embryos with the same technique. However, similar work in primates had always failed, leading some experts to wonder if primates were resistant.

But this new research, published in the journal Cell, shows that is not the case.

Mu-Ming Poo, of the Shanghai research team, was questioned whether the same method could be used on human cells. “Yes. A macaque monkey is a primate species, humans are primates — the technical barrier is now broken,” he responded.

However, campaigners said the development was worrying. “We are concerned that this is a stepping stone to the creation of human clones,” said Dr. David King of the lobby group Human Genetics Alert.

“Although it looks like that would be technically difficult, those with enough financial resources and the ambition to be the first to create a cloned child are likely to try.”

"It remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure," said Robin Lovell-Badge, a cloning expert at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who was not involved in the Chinese work.

"The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals condemned the monkey-cloning experiments.

“Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time and money — and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” said PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 percent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”

People on social media had a mixed reaction to the cloning of the primates.














Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters

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