Scientists have revealed they had cloned two monkeys, potentially paving the way to “copying” humans
Using the technique that led to Dolly the sheep, a Chinese laboratory has created a pair of identical monkeys, according to a MailOnline report.
The researchers said they had cleared the final barrier to human cloning and offered hope of treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other illnesses.
The monkeys are the most human-like animals yet to be created through ‘”true cloning” – effectively carbon-copying the DNA of a single individual.
When asked on Wednesday whether the same method could be used on human cells, Mu-Ming Poo, of the Shanghai research team, replied: “Yes. A macaque monkey is a primate species, humans are primates – the technical barrier is now broken.”
But campaigners said the development was worrying.
Dr David King of the lobby group Human Genetics Alert noted: “We are concerned that this is a stepping stone to the creation of human clones.
“Although it looks like that would be technically difficult, those with enough financial resources and the ambition to be the first to create a cloned child are likely to try.”
The monkeys – Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua – are the first primates to be cloned using the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique, which involved taking DNA from a macaque foetus cell, put in an egg and fertilised artificially to form an embryo later born to a surrogate mother.
The same method was used more than 20 years ago in Edinburgh to create Dolly from a single adult udder cell.
Cats, dogs, rats and cows are among 23 species of mammal also to have been cloned in this way.
Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born eight and six weeks ago respectively at the neuroscience arm of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It took 21 surrogate monkeys, which had only six successful pregnancies, for the two cloned monkeys to be born. Another pair created from the DNA of a live adult failed to survive.
The success is credited to reprogramming the genes of the cloned embryos to allow them to develop properly in the womb
DNA taken from their ears confirmed that Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were completely identical. The two females are being bottle fed and are said to be growing normally.
The researchers have said they had no intention of using their method to create humans.
DailyMail however quoted Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, as saying: “The first report of cloning of a non-human primate will undoubtedly raise a series of ethical concerns, with critics evoking the slippery slope argument of this being one step closer to human cloning.”
Griffin further stated: “A primate model that can be generated with a known and uniform genetic background would undoubtedly be very useful in the study, understanding and ultimately treatment, of human diseases, especially those with a genetic element.
“Careful consideration now needs to be given to the ethical framework under which such experiments can, and should, operate.”
Commenting on the new experiment, Dr Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK, said: “Experimenters constantly receive funds to perform monstrous experiments on animals, and cloning monkeys is the latest Frankenscience that PETA condemns.
“Cloning is a horror show: A waste of lives, time, and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable.
“Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”