China has just been shaken by a scandal about genetically modified babies. Now the first genetically modified clone monkeys have been proclaimed. This time everything is supposed to have gone according to international rules.
For the first time, according to Chinese information, several cloned monkeys were born with a deliberately caused genetic defect. According to the official news agency Xinhua, two articles in the Chinese science magazine “National Science Review” have been published in which the monkeys are to be used for research into biorhythm disorders.
The five macaques were recently born at the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.
The research on the cloned monkeys concentrates on the so-called circadian rhythm. In humans, it is associated with sleep disorders, depression, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s when it is disturbed. Xinhua wrote that, for the first time, five monkeys with the same genetic background would be available to scientists.
Eckhard Wolf of the Gene Center of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich called the research result a “great logistical achievement”.
If it is ethically and scientifically proven that such an experiment is necessary, he does not consider it reprehensible. However, one must ask oneself the question: “What is the benefit for humans compared to the suffering that one inflicts on animals”, he said. This is always a case-by-case decision.
“According to international rules”
After Chinese scientists were criticised for their gene and clone experiments, the State Agency emphasised that the research programme had been supervised by the Institute’s Ethics Committee “in accordance with international standards for animal research”.
The publication follows the scandal surrounding a Chinese researcher who announced the world’s first birth of genetically modified babies in November. One woman is still pregnant. His experiment has provoked worldwide outrage.
In a government investigation report on Monday, it was said that the researcher He Jiankui had acted illegally. He alone collected financial means and withdrew from the supervision of his university.
The scientist had announced on Youtube that he had manipulated embryos with the Crispr/Cas9 gene scissors in order to make them resistant to the AIDS virus HIV. The twins Nana and Lulu were born healthy.
Monkey cloning controversial
The cloning of monkeys, which was first successful in China in 2017, is also controversial because primates are so similar to humans and concern about the use of the method in humans is growing.
The State Agency Xinhua reported that in the new experiment with the monkeys in Shanghai, the researchers switched off BMAL1, a substance that is crucial for the regulation of biorhythms, in order to create a suitable DNA donor. The researchers then selected a genetically modified monkey with the clearest genetic characteristics of the disease.
Its fibroblasts were used for cloning. For this purpose, the cell nucleus was transferred into an oocyte without a nucleus. It is the same method by which the Javanese monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were first cloned in 2017.
Concentrated on brain diseases
About 22 years after the birth of Dolly the monkeys had been cloned in Shanghai. Although this technique had been successful in more than 20 animal species such as cows, pigs, and dogs, researchers had failed in monkey cloning until then.
While the fibroblasts had been used by an aborted fetus at that time, the researchers had now taken a genetically modified male monkey. “It shows that in addition to a fetus, a generated male monkey can also be used for bundled cloning,” said Qiang Sun of the Institute. This step shows that China’s cloning program is maturing.
The institute’s director, Muming Poo, said that research will focus on models of cloned monkeys with various brain diseases. They will also be used to test the efficacy of drugs.