Do you remember Dolly, the sheep that was cloned way back when? It’s been more than 20 years, and more animals have been cloned since then – including dogs, horses, and rabbits. But none have really made the news until now. Two identical, long-tailed macaques (monkeys) named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born eight and six weeks ago. They are the first primates to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell. They’re twins, not necessarily based on when they were born, but the fact that they come from the same cell.
Why are these macaques making news? In the past, monkeys have proved resistant to the cloning technique. Genetically identical animals are used in research because confounding factors caused by genetic variability in animals can complicate experiments. They could be used to test new drugs for a range of diseases before clinical use. Cloned animals could also help scientists better hunt for genetic links to diseases. (Note, I’m leaving the ethics out of this post for a reason.)
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai used a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer to transfer the nucleus of a cell into an egg which had its nucleus removed. The Chinese scientists seem to have succeeded where others have failed by switching on and off genes that were interfering with the development of the cloned embryo.
The success rate of this is procedure has been really low. It took 127 eggs to produce just two embryos. Anyone who has ever had fertility challenges, you know that’s a lot of eggs! They were also only successful in transferring nuclei from fetal cells, not adult cells like the one Dolly was cloned from. This is all really interesting, in my opinion. I think it’s great to see these kinds of scientific advancements. In fact, China has been on the cutting edge of a lot of biomedical research lately. It’s used CRISPR to treat upwards of 86 people for various diseases, while the U.S. is only just beginning its first human CRISPR trial.
To digress for a moment, CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing genomes. It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. Its many potential applications include correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops. However, its promise also raises ethical concerns.
Getting back to the monkey’s though – like I said, this is great news from a scientific perspective. How do you feel about clones? I’m a bit leery, myself. Maybe I don’t understand enough about the science to be able to agree or disagree completely, but it’s all kind of strange to me. I also wonder how this will be used in the future. You might remember that Dolly had a relatively short lifespan. Which is kind of sad if you think about it. (Yes, I’m a bit of a softie) So I can kind of understand this from a scientific perspective. By that, I mean, are you cloning an animal in order to figure out ways to treat certain diseases – either in humans or animals. Or is this the beginning of the plot out of a sci-fi movie? If the former, I think I’m ok with it. If the latter, please stop immediately.
Either way, I do like to see these kinds of breakthroughs happening. It means we’re advancing as a society. That said, I hope that this doesn’t mean that we are going to try to clone humans. Performing a head transplant is more than I can bear and that might have already happened. Might because no one actually knows if it took place. Which might actually be creepier than us knowing. Either way – this is good news for science, but maybe not for humanity.