Scientists successfully clone monkeys for the first time

To do so, they used a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT to build two genetically identical macaque monkeys named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, who were born about two months ago. Mainstream scientists generally oppose making human babies by cloning, and Poo said society would ban it for ethical reasons.

Dolly the sheep, the first mammal clone, was a wonder during the 1990s.

"It's a significant advance".

Neuroscientist Chang Hung-Chun, also at ION, says that primate-cloning technology will soon be combined with gene-editing tools to study human genetic disorders in primate brains.

In a study published Wednesday in Cell, researchers successfully produced two genetically identical, long-tailed crab-eating macaques.

But the researchers, from China, say they don't want to clone people. Using cells from fetuses, they got 109 embryos from 137 tries, six pregnancies, and two live births.

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. Their names stem from the Chinese word "Zhonghua", which means "Chinese nation" or "Chinese people".

"I'm personally not confident that we can produce really good medical treatments without testing real animals", said Moo.

"This paper really marks the beginning of a new era for biomedical research", says Xiong Zhi-Qi, a neuroscientist who studies brain disease at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience (ION) in Shanghai.

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.

Until now, the technique has been used to clone more than 20 different animal species, including dogs, pigs and cats, but primates have proven particularly hard. The process involves transferring the nucleus of a cell into an egg which has had its nucleus removed - some serious science shit, if you ask me.

But other researchers are not so sure cloning monkeys - which is an inherently expensive and ethically controversial undertaking - is necessary. A tiny amount of electricity is applied to make the egg begin dividing.

But he said his team has no intention of doing that.

The crucial step to creating the monkey clone, however, was stimulating the eggs to develop with a new mix of chemical signals.

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are not the first primate clones.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov from the Oregon Health & Science University, who was not a member of the team of this discovery, had previously struggled and failed to clone the monkeys. Human cloning is illegal in about 70 countries-interestingly, though, the United States isn't one of them. People have always been anxious about the possibility of human cloning.

However, Muming Poo, a neuroscientist and member of the cloning team, said: "Monkeys are nonhuman primates that are evolutionarily close to humans".

The numbers are also gruesome. Speed while performing the procedure helped, they learned, and scientists discovered clones created out of cells from fetal tissue did better than when they used adult cells.

"It would be far too inefficient, far too unsafe, and it is also pointless", he said. The research is costly and can create ethical dilemmas, and primates are also not ideal models of human disease. Mice genetically engineered to express the human cystic fibrosis gene, for instance, don't develop that disease's characteristic lung problems, and mice don't mimic human neurological and psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and autism very well.

But it's not a surprise the breakthrough happened in China, he said.

"These are living animals, not just research tools", the RSPCA's senior scientist explained.

"Humans are primates", Poo said.

  • Joanne Flowers