Baby Monkeys, First In The World.
Byline: Hannah, Young Editor
The year 1997 headlined news about the birth of Dolly the sheep. What made this animal more remarkable than the rest was the fact that Dolly was a clone; she was created by scientists in a lab!
Over the years, around 23 kinds of animals have been genetically cloned. However, this month marks the first successful cloning of an animal in the primate family.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience has announced they have cloned two baby macaques, highly intelligent brown or black monkeys located across Asia, using a similar method that brought Dolly alive. Their names are Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua and they are 8 weeks and 6 weeks old and healthy respectively.
What is Cloning?
To understand cloning, let's first understand an animal's cell. Inside each cell is a nucleus that contains chromosomes and DNA - the genetic material that determines your traits. Usually, during the normal process of fertilization, the embryo receives half of the genetic material from the male parent and half from the female parent. That is why you have traits from your mother and your father.
Cloning is a process in which researchers delicately remove the genetic material inside an egg and replace with the complete genetic material from a donor cell. The donor cell can be from the skin of an adult animal. This process is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. The cells are then reprogrammed chemically and implanted in a surrogate mother's uterus where they grow into a baby.
In Dolly's case, she had the same genetic code as a Finn Dorset sheep, but was born from a Scottish Blackface sheep! This explains why Dolly does not look similar to her birth mother because they have different genes.
In order to clone the monkeys, researchers transferred the DNA from a baby monkey's fetal cells into an egg. They used a baby monkey as a donor because the adult cells required more reprogramming compared to a baby's cells, and did not work. Even then, only 2 successful births resulted from 70 embryos.
Debate On Cloning
Researchers who support cloning believe it helps with medical experimentation. In the case of the cloned monkeys, scientists could test various medications on monkeys that are created with specific genetic disorders. Additionally, stem cells cloned from someone with a disease can be grown and cultured for scientists to better understand their disease and develop treatments.
On the other hand, many believe cloning is unethical as it can cause genetic harm and psychological problems for the clones and bring unnecessary stress to surrogate mothers who have suffered from miscarriages. Moreover, if more animals were cloned, animal activists believe it would reignite animal testing and harming them for human benefit. However, all agree that human cloning is not responsible and needs much thought.
For now, Chinese researchers will be monitoring the growth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. Dolly, the cloned sheep, passed away at age 6 as she had developed lung disease and severe arthritis. That said, the cloning of monkeys has certainly brought a lot of excitement for scientists and brings hope to those who are working in stem cell research.
Sources: NYTimes, Brittanica, NatGeo, Genetics Science Learning Center, Adelaide Center for Bioethics and Culture