Cloned monkeys born in Chinese lab

Scientists in China have cloned healthy macaque monkeys using the technique that cloned Dolly the sheep for the first time.

The two identical long-tailed macaques are called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, which derive from the Mandarin term for Chinese nation or people. The scientists, a team of researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China, released footage of the cloned macaques.

The researchers hope that genetically identical non-human primates, owing to their genetic closeness to humans, may be used to investigate human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “[The] first group of monkey clones will be models for neurodegenerative diseases,” Dr Mu-ming Poo, co-author of the study, told the Guardian.

Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996 at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh, and since then pigs, dogs, and more mammals have been cloned using this technique, which is called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). But this study marks the first time that SCNT has been used to successfully clone primates.

The researchers, who published their results last week in the journal Cell, removed the nucleus from a macaque egg cell and then replaced it with the nucleus of a cell from the macaque that was to be cloned. The resulting egg was then transferred into a surrogate macaque, where it developed into a clone of the donor macaque.

SCNT is technically challenging. “It remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure,” Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who had no involvement in the study, told Reuters.

The research has faced criticism over its ethical implications. “Cloning primates won’t solve human medical problems, but it will lead to misery for these intelligent and sensitive animals,” wrote Dr Julia Baines, science policy advisor for PETA UK, on the PETA blog.

Philip Ball, writing in the Guardian, said that this study “changes nothing in the debate about whether such human cloning should ever happen.”

However, the scientists say that cloning humans is not their aim. “We have no plan to clone humans, and social ethics would by no means allow that practice,” said Mu-ming Poo in an interview with Chinese news outlet Xinhua.

Jordan Hindson is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London

Banner image: Egg microinjection, Kts, Dreamstime

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