Scientists in China has cloned two monkeys in a world first of cloning primates in such a complete healthy state. China’s success rouses fears of human cloning because the technique used can be applied to another primate order: the humans. Furthermore, the breakthrough comes as China is gearing towards becoming the next super power.
The two cloned monkeys, aged eight weeks and six weeks old, are living in an incubator and are genetically identical. They are named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua.
The scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have used the process called somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT to make the world first primate clones possible.
SCNT is closely similar to the human process of IVF and surrogacy. A nucleus, which contains a copy of the monkeys’ distinct genetic code (in this case macaques) is transferred from one species’ cell into another species’ egg. This egg undergoes chemical stimulus, comparable to natural fertilization, in order to develop into an embryo. The scientists then implant the “ripe” embryo into the surrogate who gets pregnant and gives birth to identical specie.
In the case of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, the Chinese scientists have implanted 79 embryos into 21 surrogates. Six of the surrogates have gotten pregnant but only two triumphantly gave birth in December.
Here’s a video of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua from the National Geographic:
As pointed out by Quartz, China has given the cloned monkeys names that are very political in nature. The publication reports that when one character from each name is put together, the term Zhonghua is formed. Zhonghua means “China” and by giving this name to the first ever cloned primates, people will always remember who cloned those monkeys.
In 1999, American stem cell researcher Gerald Schatten has led researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in an attempt to clone a rhesus macaque. They have reached a point of creating artificial identical embryos but were confined to petri dishes and obviously had not developed into monkeys, unlike the Chinese with Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua.
As talks of human cloning as China’s next scientific breakthrough, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have clarified that they only want to clone marquees to further biomedical research. New drugs or therapies can be tested with cloned monkeys prior to human trials. They have no intentions of trying to clone human beings.
“For the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken. However, the reason we chose to break this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for human medicine. There’s no intention to apply this method to humans,” Mu-Ming Poo, co-author of the study, explains to National Geographic.
The Chinese scientists are expecting more cloned monkeys to be born in the months to come. They hope to use them for their studies on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.