China Breaks a Cloning Barrier: Primates

Pablo Tucker
January 25, 2018

The BBC reports that the monkeys were cloned using the same technique that led to the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep in Scotland 20 years ago. The research is costly and can create ethical dilemmas, and primates are also not ideal models of human disease.

The two long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were born at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and are the fruits of years of research into a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

There have been mice and cows and pigs and camels, bunnies and bantengs and ferrets and dogs, but ever since Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1996, the list has had a conspicuous hole: primates.

The scientists involved in the project say that the lab is following strict worldwide guidelines for animal research that have been set by the US National Institutes of Health.

"It is unlikely it can be applied to humans", Mitalipov said.

Scientists say the monkeys are much like human babies who get more active every day

Of course, the familiar image of human cloning involves making a copy of someone already born. "It's feasible so that's a good thing", Ross says.

At the moment, because of safety concerns, federal regulators in the US would not allow making a human baby by cloning, and worldwide scientific groups also oppose it, said biomedical ethics expert Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It has been used to clone 23 species from rodeo bulls to polo ponies and pet cats. Instead, they want to use the technique to create genetically identical monkeys for medical research.

The resulting clones are twins because they were created using DNA from the same fetal tissue.

Researchers use an electric current to fool the egg into acting fertilized, so that it starts to develop into an embryo. The cloning technique is also expensive and not very efficient - over 70 embryos were implanted in 21 surrogate mothers.

Four of those surrogates remained pregnant, but two soon miscarried. 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. They are cared for by humans, and actively play with each other, Poo said.

Read full, original post: In a scientific first, cloned monkeys are born. "I hope that societies in Western countries will realize once we demonstrate the cloned monkeys' usefulness in curing disease, they will gradually change their mind". That's pricey: each successfully-cloned macaque cost $50,000, but the price would be even higher in the United States, according to Ross.

"There will be rapid development in this field", Sun said.

Right now, it takes nine months to produce one generation of clones, said study co-author Qiang Sun, who claims that they can now receive two live offspring from six starter monkeys.

The researchers downplayed the potential of their process for human cloning, however, saying they had "no intention" to apply it to humans. So what does this mean, and are humans next to be cloned?

For starters, it took the researchers a total of 127 eggs to produce just two baby monkeys.

The fact that the process required fetal cells is another barrier to human cloning, Greely added.

Henry Greely, a Stanford University law professor who specializes in the implications of biomedical technologies, said the strongest argument he can think of would be the desire of grieving parents to produce a genetic duplicate of a dead child.

The study was published online January 24 in Cell.

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