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Meet the amazing cloned monkeys

(Credit: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo, Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

It’s been about six months since a pair of cloned female macaques were brought into this world by a team of Chinese scientists.

The controversial experiment was the first time that a primate has been successfully cloned by using a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer — the same technique used for the cloning of the sheep Dolly two decades earlier (it is much harder to do on primates).

The world was introduced to the cloned monkeys, Zhong Zhong, and Hua Hua, who were six and eight weeks old at the time, in January, after they were born in the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai.

The successful experiment generated headlines around the world as the breakthrough promised to greatly improve medical research and even open the door for the possibilities of one day cloning a human being.

But the almost five months since the researchers published their paper in the journal Cell, how are the female macaques do, and how will the breakthrough impact on scientific research?

(Credit: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo, Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

“They are doing very well, now living with other monkeys of similar age,” said Dr. Mu-ming Poo, the director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute for Neuroscience who helped lead the project.

The two young macaques show “no sign of a bias we can detect,” he told the news.com.au via e-mail.

The monkeys are kept in captivity in what he described as “an enriched environment” and the researchers will soon begin testing to determine whether their development shows no signs of abnormality.

“We will begin with behavioral and brain imaging tests to monitor their brain and behavioral development,” Dr. Poo said.

Primates are notoriously difficult to clone and during this experiment was considered a success, it was the result of years of research into the cloning technique that involves removing the nucleus of a healthy egg and replacing it with another nucleus from another cell type. The clone is the same as the creature that donated the replacement of the core.

(Credit: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo, Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Researchers said that it has “many errors” and three years for the procedure.

Critics are quick to point out that the cloning of a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, with a number of labeling of the experiment by the Chinese researchers as “monstrous”.

However, for many in the field of the benefits of being able to produce genetically identical monkeys and not have to rely on primates in the wild for medical research substantially outweighs the ethical issue of the lab clearing.

MORE CLONES ON THE WAY

According To Dr. Shit, scientists at the Shanghai institute preparing to be a clone of more monkeys to be used in the development of treatments for certain disorders of the brain and other diseases in humans.

“Yes, more cloned monkeys will soon be produced,” he said. “Some of them will carry the gene mutations known to cause human brain disorders, in order to generate useful monkey models for the development of drugs and treatment.”

He was not surprised about the enormous global interest, the story got after the journal was published, because “the production of genetically identical monkeys have a large impact on the study of fundamental science of the primates and the development of therapies for human diseases”.

“With a further improvement of the efficiency, we will be able to generate a lot of monkey-cloning for biomedical research, similar to the mouse strains are now widely used,” Dr. Poo said.

It is important to note that, because primates share about 95 percent of the human genes and a number of physiological and anatomical similarities, biomedical research currently uses a large number of monkeys, sometimes up to 100,000 every year all over the world.

“This number will be greatly reduced by the use of monkeys with a uniform genetic background that reduces the noise in experimental studies,” Dr. Poo said, pointing to the example of the testing of the efficacy of the drug for clinical trials. “This will greatly assist in the ethical use of non-human primates for biomedical purposes.”

‘NO JUSTIFICATION’ FOR THE CLONING OF HUMAN CELLS

Back in January, Dr. Poo told reporters that “in principle,” this cloning technique can be applied to the human being, but he is certainly not believe that will happen in the short term.

“No, there are technical obstacles to applying the technique to humans, and there is no reason to do this in the near future,” he said.

He is not aware of all the efforts of researchers in China, for the pursuit of such a goal, adding “the social ethics will not allow.”

This story was previously published in the news.com.au,

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