Cloning by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Feasible in Monkeys

Cloning by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Feasible in Monkeys

Cloning by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Feasible in Monkeys

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are long-tailed macaques born at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, and cloned from a "somatic" cell.

Scientists around the world have been experimenting with cloning other animals since Dolly, and have succeeded in cloning mammals including dogs, horses, and rabbits, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, a USA government research body.

The Chinese team is following strict global guidelines for animal research set by the US National Institutes of Health.

Despite the ethical debate, proponents say that genetically-identical primate populations could further research into human diseases.

Success came when the research team drew DNA from fetal monkey cells and used that to create clone eggs. A rhesus macaque named Tetra was produced in the late 1990s by embryo splitting, the division of an early-stage embryo into two or four separate cells to make clones.

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 cloning technique also allows researchers to genetically engineer monkeys to have genes linked to a particular disease, such as Parkinson's, creating better animal models for the illness.

The team went through more than 400 egg cells in all, and transferred 260 embryos into monkey surrogates.

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.

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Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were the result of 79 attempts.

Although the technique worked when using cells from a monkey fetus, scientists found that when they attempted the same process using adult cells, the baby monkeys lived only for a few hours after birth. Now, 22 years after Dolly sparked fears of human cloning just around the corner, we have Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua: the first primates cloned using the technique.

The monkeys were born to surrogate macaque monkey mothers by caesarian section ten days apart, in a lab in Shanghai. Applying this method to humans might simply be so complex as to be pointless, and is such an ethically and legally complex moral thicket even most philosophers would steer well clear.

Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned using SCNT, but she certainly wasn't the last.

"Technically speaking, one can clone a human...but we're not going to do it".

The technical barrier to reproductive cloning was in principle broken, but societal taboos, ethical concerns and governmental prohibitions remained intact, he said. Cloning from an adult monkey is still in the works after several failures.

Chinese researchers described the experiment in a research paper published today by the journal Cell. People have always been anxious about the possibility of human cloning.

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