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.
My thoughts on today's monkey cloning story:— Kat Arney (@Kat_Arney) January 25, 2018
1) This is not some kind of muhahahahaaa Evil Scientist human cloning plan. Stop saying that
2) Being able to clone primates from lab-grown fetal cells is a big advantage for generating more reliable models for human diseases /1
Researchers in China cloned 2 monkeys for the 1st time ever. My take on this. https://t.co/aM3wvZpgzO Is it a breakthrough? Maybe not such a good idea? Will they #CRISPR the clones next? https://t.co/LLiPqWgZ5J— Paul Knoepfler (@pknoepfler) January 24, 2018
"The technical barrier is now broken. In principle this method can be applied to humans" https://t.co/J522T0TerS— Andreas Paleit (@ndreasp) January 25, 2018
"Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable."https://t.co/qSMRe2PHfq— PETA UK (@PETAUK) January 24, 2018
china successfully cloned a monkey. i feel i’d be fine to clone animals on the brick of extinct so that they have a better chance of reproducing, but i don’t agree with cloning a human. there’s enough of us and we don’t need more than one of the same person. what do you think?— king ani? (@kinganiii) January 25, 2018
This is scary AF. Chinese scientists have become the first to successfully clone two monkeys - breaking a technical barrier that will theoretically allow humans to be replicated too https://t.co/eA9SWa3MHU via @financialtimes— Leisha Santorelli (@BBCLeisha) January 24, 2018
In the midst of the news that Chinese scientists have managed to successfully clone a pair of monkeys, one thing I've learned is that most people, in both the pro and con camps, don't seem to understand what cloning actually is. https://t.co/NAUQdRRi6L— Laurie McHale (@LozTheValeyard) January 25, 2018
Monkey cloning and all ok but pls don't bother with humans. We're capable of destroying one another and the planet by creating more of us without any help. Go clones some pandas or something.— Pallavi (@PolyesterPalla) January 25, 2018
Definitely not a fan of this cloning monkey's malarkey tbh.— Lil Miss Cunty Chops (@KirkyPep) January 24, 2018
https://t.co/ZFI6Op3MlM Monkey clones. This is big. Human health will benefit.— Matthew Elitt (@matthewelitt) January 25, 2018
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, China Daily