Two adorable monkeys have become the first ever primates cloned from transferred DNA and were born just six and eight weeks ago in China.
The monkeys were cloned by a research team from the Non-Human Primate Research Facility at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and their results were recently published in the journal Cell.
It’s a revolutionary breakthrough that marks one of the most significant steps in cloning since Dolly the Sheep.
The research team behind the successful cloning attempt hope their work will pave the way for customizable uniform lab monkeys that will help researchers study diseases.
Critics of cloning are concerned that the new monkeys bring us closer to cloning humans, and the ethical ramifications of human cloning is a topic of much discourse.
However, besides a few unverified and retracted studies and hoaxes, there have been no successful human cloning attempts made.
The monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, were cloned using a single cell nuclear transfer technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which was the same technique that was used for Dolly 20 years ago.
There are several cloning methods used today, but SCNT works by transferring the nucleus from a single cell to a donated egg cell that then develops into an embryo.
Other methods use different techniques such as embryo splitting which is simpler, and in 1999, was used to clone a rhesus monkey successfully. But Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the first primates that were cloned with somatic cell transfer.
The researchers used DNA extracted from fetal connective tissue, and once the DNA was transferred to the donated eggs, certain genes that would have hindered the embryo from developing were switched off with genetic reprogramming.
The researchers are excited about the implications that Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua could have on disease research especially treating human genetic diseases.
“You can produce cloned monkeys with the same genetic background except for the gene you manipulated,” said Dr. Qiang Sun, who led the research. “This will generate real models not just for genetically based brain diseases, but also cancer, immune or metabolic disorders and allow us to test the efficacy of the drugs for these conditions before clinical use.”
Image Credit: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo/Chinese Academy of Sciences