China has successfully cloned primates for the first time, bringing science one step closer to making human copies in a lab.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai successfully cloned two long-tailed macaque monkeys, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, in a lab several weeks ago, and plans to do more, according to New Science.
WATCH: China introduces the first two successful monkey clones (video via NPR)
“It’s been tried for so many years and it hasn’t worked,” Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., told NPR. “This time it worked, which is a big deal.”
The breakthrough came when the Chinese team took DNA from fetal monkey cells, instead of using adult cells like how the sheep Dolly was cloned more than 20 years ago. The fetal macaque nuclei were then placed in a donor embryo, and grown in the wombs of surrogate monkeys.
Researchers use an electric current to fool the egg into acting fertilized, so that it starts to develop into an embryo. Then, the embryo grows into an exact copy of the animal that donated the nucleus.
Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were both created from connective tissue cells taken from the fetus of an aborted female monkey. The team implanted 79 embryos into 21 surrogates, and the two macaques were the only successful pregnancies.
The institute says it expects more macaque clones to be born in the coming months. Cloning animals could be effective in researching diseases and testing effective treatments on genetic conditions and cancers, the institute said.
Experimentation on cloning humans remains illegal in most countries, but a successful human cloning procedure is increasingly possible with the success of cloning primates.
“Humans are primates. So the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken,” Muming Poo, one of the supervisors of the cloning program, told reporters.
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Human cloning “remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure,” Robin Lovell-Badge, an expert on cloning at the Francis Crick Institute in London.
“The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt,” he said.
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