Chinese scientists clone monkeys in world first

And here's Hua Hua

And here’s Hua Hua

The cloned macaque monkey Hua Hua at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience.

Instead, he said, the goal is to create lots of genetically identical monkeys for use in medical research, where they would be particularly valuable because they are more like humans than other lab animals such as mice or rats.

Two genetically identical cloned monkeys play in their incubator in Shanghai, China.

The Chinese researchers created the two monkey clones using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which DNA drawn from a cell is inserted into an egg. This is where scientists reconstruct an unfertilized egg. Then, the embryo grows into an exact copy of the animal that donated the nucleus. That same cell cluster can make more genetically matched animals.

"You can produce cloned monkeys with the same genetic background except the gene you manipulated", said Dr Qiang Sun, the Chinese scientist who led the team that produced the research published in the journal Cell.

The macaque monkey is a species close to humans, and they are usually used as a model for studying physiological functions unique to primates and developing therapeutic treatments of human diseases. Scientists long thought something in a monkey's genes made the technique unsuccessful. Poo says that the pair seem healthy so far.

This cloning method has proven extremely hard in monkeys up till now, and, indeed, the researchers created several clones which only survived for a few hours after birth. It wasn't easy getting the process to work for monkeys; the scientists say they tinkered with the specifics of macaque SCNT for three years before alighting on a method that worked. In the end, there were two live births.

Experimentation on cloning humans remains illegal in most countries, but a successful human cloning procedure is increasingly possible with the success of cloning primates. These included a new type of microscopy to better view the cells during handling to using several compounds that encourage cell reprogramming, which hadn't been tried before on primates, they report today in Cell. Immune disorders and cancers are among hundreds of other illnesses that could be researched using genetically engineered clones. The institute is now awaiting the birth of another six clones. "In principle, that can be applied to humans". Nobody in the field "has at any point had a motivation to deliver human clones".

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"Even if it's expensive, it's a very precious animal", says Pablo Ross, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who did not take part in the study.

The authors of this experiment say they will continue working to improve the SCNT approach.

Yet, because of their genetic proximity to humans, their intelligence and their social dynamics, non-human primates are considered vital to biomedical research.

Mu-ming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Scientists stated that "We're excited - extremely excited..."

"The thing is, it is very expensive research and you need a really good justification to clone 20 monkeys", said Hans-Michael Kubisch, a genetic researcher who previously managed the breeding of rhesus monkeys at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, in an interview.

"I would think that the society and general public and the government will not allow the extension of application of these methods from non-human primates to humans", said Mu-ming Poo, director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

For Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, scientists removed the nucleus from an egg cell and replaced it with another nucleus from body cells. They get regular physical check ups and when they are a little older, scientists will study their mental health to see if there are any problems. "On the off chance that you found an extremely fascinating creature that you needed to clone, it's likely not going to be discovered when it's a baby", she said. They'll be monitored for any signs of illness or abnormal behavior.

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