Scientists clone monkeys, raising excitement and concern

Monkey see, monkey duplicate.

Chinese scientists have cloned monkeys using the same technique that Scottish reseachers devised to create Dolly the sheep in 1990s.

More than two decades later, the result of that technology — furry identical macaques named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua — have researchers “extreme excited.”

It’s the first time the technology — somatic cell nuclear transfer, which works by creating an ovum with a donor nucleus — has been used to clone primates.

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“This is really, I think, a breakthrough for biomedicine,” scientists said about the cloned primates.

(CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES/AFP/Getty Images)

Up until now, scientists have been able to clone other mammals — mice, dogs, cows, horses and rabbits. And now monkeys — close relatives of humans.

“We’re excited — extremely excited,” Mu-ming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told NPR. “This is really, I think, a breakthrough for biomedicine.”

Scientists want to use their research, published in the journal Cell, to genetically duplicate monkeys for medical research. Brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, could potentially benefit from such study.

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The world’s first clone of an adult animal, Dolly the sheep, burst onto the biomedical scene in 1996.

(JEFF J MITCHELL/REUTERS)

“It’s a major advance,” Dieter Egli, a reproductive biologist at Columbia University, told NPR. “It should be possible to make models of human disease in those monkeys and study those and then attempt to cure it.”

At the same time, scientists have expressed concern that the leap from cloning monkeys to humans is a narrow one.

The Chinese scientists allow that although science can be abused, they have no interest in cloning people. “Technically speaking one can clone human,” Poo said. “But we’re not going to do it. There’s absolutely no plan to do anything on humans.”

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