Everyone’s Gone Bananas 🍌
Two macaque monkeys named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were cloned by Chinese scientists this past week. The researchers employed the same method used to clone Dolly the sheep in 1996, called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). They took the nucleus of a female monkey’s egg, combined it with another monkey’s cell, developed it into an embryo, and placed it in a surrogate monkey who gave birth to a genetic clone of the first monkey.
A long long time ago...
There have been many genetic research projects that led us to this moment. The first monkey to be cloned was created using a method called embryo splicing, which only produces a max of 4 replicates. Dolly the sheep furthered research, with the first successful use of SCNT. Finally, the second monkey clones in 1997 sealed the deal for SCNT, with twins Ditto and Neti, using a precursor to the technology used for Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. Ditto and Neti were cloned using rare embryonic cells, while Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were cloned using connective tissue cells, which can be easily grown in a lab.
Too Close for Comfort:
Cloning advocates are excited about the genetic research implications. Since this technique for cloning allows unlimited replicates, scientists can perform tests on identical animals, cutting out error in experimentation. This could also help advance study of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and even Autism, because the clones’ DNA can be altered to look at specific genes in these diseases.
Cloning critics focus on the unethical, costly, and painful way that clones are created. There is a 90% rate of failure with the SCNT method of cloning. 79 embryos were placed in 21 surrogates with varying degrees of success - some coming out disfigured, and/or dying shortly after birth. The cloned animals are also likely to have malfunctioning immune systems, which will cause them to die of disease. There are numerous concerns about the ethics of such cloning, with many arguing that monkeys are ‘animals not research tools’. No monkeying around.
Science vs Ethics
The genetic research possibilities are endless with identical monkey DNA to experiment on, and enthusiasts have a point that this is a huge medical breakthrough. However, those who are horrified about the implications of this cloning also make a strong case. The ethics of using live animals as test subjects is a real problem, since the clones still feel pain. Is it morally acceptable to experiment on them for the greater good? An age-old question in science...
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