In a major breakthrough, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai have successfully cloned long-tailed macaque monkeys. The hope is that more monkey babies like Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong will be born in the future.
The scientists used the same technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep in the '90s: somatic cell transfer (SCNT), which according to one of the paper's authors, Muming Poo, previously failed to clone "non-human primate species".
Identical long-tailed macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born several weeks ago at a laboratory in China.
This handout picture from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, taken on January 20 and released on January 24, 2018 shows monkey clones "Zhong Zhong" (L) and "Hua Hua" at a research institution in Suzhou in China's Jiangsu province. The publication reports that when one character from each name is put together, the term Zhonghua is formed.
The cloned monkeys whose birth was announced this week are more closely related to humans than any of the other cloned animals born in the past, and they could be a promising tool for medical research, especially on neurological diseases.
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The results of the remarkable experiment were published Wednesday in the journal Cell. You can produce cloned monkeys with the same genetic background except the gene you manipulated. Sun led a group of researchers for three years to overcome the biological difficulties.
In other words, the clones seem to be up to typical monkey business. There is an extraordinarily high rate of failure required to produce such a small number of ostensibly healthy subjects. "It will give us an worldwide edge in the research of primate brains", Poo added. Now bottle fed, the babies are growing normally compared to others their age.
The researchers say they followed the strictest of ethical standards, as set forth by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). "Any abusive use could cause trouble".
The team has no intention of using their techniques to clone humans, said Poo, who directs the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology. CAS has its own ethics committee that will strictly evaluate the ethical concerns on each of its experiments beforehand.
Researchers have been trying to clone primates since Dolly's birth in 1996, but until now no primate clones have been reported. She died in 2003.
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Chinese scientists have been able to clone two macaques using the same technique that was responsible for Dolly - the world's first cloned mammal. The researchers remove the egg's nucleus - the part of the cell that contains most of its genetic information- and replace it with the nucleus from another cell.
Zhong Zhong is the older sister, born eight weeks ago, while Hua Hua is just six weeks old.
What researchers don't mention is that it brings an ever-encroaching specter closer to reality: human cloning. Such uniform clones could be useful for medical research and might even ramp up the development of new treatments for a range of diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even cancer.
"If you have a population of nonhuman primates that are genetically identical, that's a really, really powerful model to study human disease, underlying mechanisms, and potential cures", said Kevin Sinclair, a biologist at the University of Nottingham.
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