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25 January 2018, 05:42 | Katie Chavez
Just Like Dolly: Scientists Clone 2 Monkeys
Chinese scientists have successfully cloned two macaques from adult somatic cells, using a similar method to that which cloned Dolly the sheep.
The two identical long tailed macaques are named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, and were produced using the same manner of procedure that grabbed headlines over two decades ago with Dolly the sheep was born in 1996.
When scientists made Dolly the sheep, years after she was born they used the same cell cluster to make four other sheep clones. This cloning technique is easier to accomplish, but has limitations not borne by SCNT.
These two are not the first primates to be cloned.
Researchers that worked on this project included Zhen Liu, Yijun Cai, Yan Wang, Yanhong Nie, Chenchen Zhang, Yuting Xu, Xiaotong Zhang, Yong Lu, Zhanyang Wang, Mu-ming Poo, and lead scientist Qiang Sun.
If monkey clones can be created routinely, they can also be genetically altered, one gene at a time, with techniques such as CRISPR. 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. It's a technique that's often used for assisted reproduction in farm livestock. The formal name of the procedure is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), involving a transfer of the nucleus of a cell into an enucleated egg (an egg that has had its nucleus removed).
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These stem cells were cloned by researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov and crew. This technique has also been used to clone other animals, including pigs, cows and even dogs, but past attempts to clone a non-human primate species all failed.
The Chinese team solved the problem by switching on and off certain genes that were preventing the embryos from forming properly.
This was progress, but something was still amiss. Using primates for research, then, can get us a lot closer to answering questions about our own biology and health than using, say, mice. Dolly was the world's first mammal cloned from an adult cell. The scientists underscore that these genetically identical animals, akin to identical human twins, are to be used only to advance human medicine. That said, such a thing would be a hard sell in the United States and much of Europe, but Chinese regulations are notoriously lax when it comes to scientific endeavors, and there's little doubt that the country will push ahead with the program. "You can produce cloned monkeys with the same genetic background except the gene you manipulated", explained senior author Qiang Sun. It is regulated in the European Union, where it is only permitted if no other methods are available, and banned to varying degrees in some regions.
Spurred by the promise of primate research, the city of Shanghai is planning major funding for an International Primate Research Center, expected to be formally announced in the next few months.
Two cloned macaque monkeys are presently exploring the confines of an incubator, built for human babies, inside a research laboratory run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They don't really have any incentive to do so, either, according to Peter Andrews, a professor in the University of Sheffield's department of biomedical science. But until now, they have been unable to make babies this way in primates, the category that includes monkeys, apes and people.
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