In a great feat, a team of Chinese scientists has cloned monkeys using the same technique that Dolly sheep provided almost two decades ago.
Two identical long-tailed macaques, called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, were born 8 and 6 weeks ago, respectively. They are the first primates cloned from a non-embryonic cell.
Many mammals, including dogs, horses and rabbits, have been cloned since Dolly was born in 1996, but the new research study published on Wednesday in the scientific journal Cell is very important because in the past the monkeys have proved to be resistant to this cloning technique.
Genetically identical animals are useful in research because the factors that make it difficult to identify one or the other, caused by genetic variability in animals, can complicate the experiments. These animals can be used to test new drugs for a wide variety of diseases before their clinical use. The cloned animals could also help scientists to better seek the genetic links of diseases.
The team of researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, used a procedure called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” to transfer the nucleus of a card to an egg whose nucleus had been removed. Chinese scientists seem to have succeeded where others have failed, by manipulating genes that interfered with the development of the cloned embryo.
In spite of that, the success rate was really low: it took 127 embryos to produce just two baby macaques. On the other hand, they could only achieve this by transferring nuclei of fetal cells, and not adults as in the case of Dolly.
Recently, China has been at the forefront of biomedical research. They have already used CRISPR to treat more than 86 people from different diseases, while the United States is just beginning its first CRISPR test on a human. Last year China was also going to host the first human head transplant, although there has been no news as to whether that experiment really happened.
One of the main reasons for China’s leadership in this area is the shortage of strict safety standards, such as those that limit researchers in the United States.
The first successful cloning of a primate also makes us wonder if perhaps the cloning of human beings is just around the corner.
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