Monkeys successfully cloned for first time: Are humans next?
In a historical breakthrough, Chinese scientists successfully cloned monkeys using the same technique as Dolly the sheep -first mammal cloned from an adult cell- in 1996. Cloning of primates -mammals of the order including monkeys, apes, and humans- was impossible using the Dolly-technique until now. They overcame a technical hurdle to the process, bringing the possibility of human cloning closer to reality. Here's more.
Researchers at Shanghai's Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience created two identical long-tailed macaques - Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua born eight and six weeks ago, respectively. They are the first primates cloned from a non-embryonic stem cell. They used somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technique: implanting a cell's nucleus (including its DNA) into a nucleus-free egg (its own nucleus is removed).
Researchers said their work should be a "boon to medical research"; it allows scientists to study and understand better the diseases in genetically-uniform monkey populations. It can also aid in the testing of new drugs for many diseases. Genetic variability in non-cloned animals complicates such tests. However, there would be no such complications while conducting the tests on genetically identical animals.
Muming Poo, the latest study's supervisor, stated: "Humans are primates. So, (for) the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken. The reason...we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, (and) for human health."
After Dolly's birth in 1996, scientists across the world successfully used SCNT technique to clone around 20 species like rats, mice, rabbits, cats, dogs, and even cattle but somehow, primate cloning always failed. But now, the Chinese researchers have finally succeeded in primate cloning after several attempts as they used modulators to switch on/off the genes that had been inhibiting the embryonic development.
Researchers said the cloned monkeys are growing normally and are being bottle fed. They said more macaque clones are expected to be produced in the coming months. However, the research team's success rate is extremely low. They used 127 nucleus-free egg cells to create two monkeys. Also, the SCTN technique worked only when they used fetal (non-embryonic) cells and not adult stem cells.
Meanwhile, Robin Lovell-Badge, Cloning Expert at London's Francis Crick Institute, stated: "It (Chinese researchers' work) remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure. The work...is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt."
Condemning the latest monkey-cloning experiments, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Senior Vice-President Kathy Guillermo stated: "Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time and money- and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable." Guillermo added, "Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 percent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale."