Chinese researchers recently created a monkey clone, using the same technique that Scottish researchers used to clone Dolly the sheep in the mid-1990s.
A Monkey Clone
NPR reports that Shanghai scientists claim that they’ve managed to produce a monkey clone by taking the DNA from the nuclei of fetal monkey cells and putting those genes into monkey eggs that had their own DNA removed. The eggs were then stimulated in order to develop into embryos, which were placed into the wombs of surrogate monkeys to develop into baby monkeys.
This production of a monkey clone is especially significant, because it marks the first time that this somatic cell nuclear transfer technology has been used successfully in a close relatives to humans. Despite this recent development, however, it’s unlikely we’ll see clones of humans in the near future due to ethical concerns surrounding the practice. The researchers behind the project state that they hope to create genetically identical monkeys for medical research, which is an immediate practical application of this new development of a monkey clone.
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Mu-ming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Scientists stated that “We’re excited – extremely excited…This is really, I think, a breakthrough for biomedicine.”
Poo continued on, stating that the successful creation of a monkey clone has the potential for applications in research such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease due to our new ability to create genetically identical primates with bodies that are somewhat analogous to our own.
As mentioned above, discovering a technique to create a monkey clone is a major step forward for science, but it also has the potential for abuse.
NPR reports that Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University suggested that “People may wonder: Are human beings next? People have always been worried about the possibility of human cloning. And this is just yet another step in that direction.”
Poo acknowledged the concerns, but stressed that they have no interest in cloning humans.
“Technically speaking, one can clone a human…but we’re not going to do it. There’s absolutely no plan to do anything on humans.”
This technically isn’t the first time we’ve created a monkey clone. In recent years, Scientists have cloned rhesus monkeys in a method known as embryo splitting. The main difference with this recent advancement, however, is that it’s viable for producing large numbers of clones for medical research, while embryo splitting is not able to be expanded on such a large scale.
A Unique Experiment
For quite some time, researchers have been trying to expand the methods used to clone Dolly the sheep into other mammals. NPR reports that they’ve succeeded on many species including mice, dogs, cows, horses, and rabbits. This particular advancement, however, is the first time we’ve applied this same technology in a way that could be significant for discovering more about illnesses that are difficult to study in animals with bodies that are so different from our own.
So what changed that allowed Poo and his team to successfully produce a monkey clone via somatic cell nuclear transfer? The main difference is that Poo’s team removed the DNA from fetal monkeys rather than using adult cells, proceeding to transfer the information to eggs with their own DNA removed.
The crucial step to creating the monkey clone, however, was stimulating the eggs to develop with a new mix of chemical signals. NPR reported that “The trick is we chose the right chemicals to turn on these genes we transfer into the egg,” said Poo. “So that’s what we did different. I think that’s the key.”
The ability to create a monkey clone is a huge breakthrough in the scientific community. In the coming years, we could see significant advancements in the study of diseases that benefit from having two genetically identical models.