20 years ago at the Roslin Institute in Edinburg, Dolly the sheep made history by becoming the first ever mammal to be cloned. Many had thought that the ambitious research projects would only end in mammals, but six weeks ago the Chinese Academy of Sciences cloned the first ever primates.
These are two identical long-tailed macaques named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. They were given these names after the mandaria term for the chinese nation and people.
Zhong Zhong and Hua were cloned using the same somatic cell nuclear transfer technique (SCNT). This involves transferring DNA from the nucleus of a cell to a donated egg cell which has had its own DNA removed. This is then prompted to develop into an embryo and implanted in a surrogate animal.
The two monkeys have become the first non-human primates to be cloned through this technique.
In 1999, a rhesus monkey embryo was split in two identical twins. One of the baby monkeys born through this technique called tetra , has the title of the world’s first cloned monkey, but it did not involve the complex process of DNA transfer.
Prof Damen Griffin of the University of Kent said that the SCNT approach may be useful in understanding human diseases, but raised ethical concerns.
“Careful consideration now needs to be given to the ethical framework under which such experiments can and should operate”, he said.
However Prof Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute London, differed, saying the process is “a very inefficient and hazardous procedure”.
When Dolly the sheep was cloned, an adult cell taken from the udder was used. But for the two monkeys, scientists used DNA from foetal cells.
ABC casually reports, without ethical reflection, that cloned monkeys will be great for testing drugs on…
— Mark Duckett (@MarkRDuckett) January 25, 2018
After the DNA was transferred to donated eggs, genetic reprogramming was used to alter genes that would otherwise have stopped the embryo developing.
“We tried several different methods, but only one worked. There was much failure before we found away to successfully clone a monkey.” Dr Sun, the head researcher said.
The two monkeys are now being bottle fed and are growing normally.
According to the scientists, they followed strict international guidelines for animal research set by the U.S National Institute of Health.
“We are very aware that future research using non-human primates anywhere in the world depends on scientists following very strict ethical standard” Co- researcher Dr. Muming Poo said.