In a groundbreaking scientific first, researchers in China have successfully produced twin primate clones. The clone monkeys are long-tailed macaques and were created using the same technique that was used to clone Dolly the sheep, who was the first mammal ever cloned. According to Science Magazine, this could lead to the replication of genetically identical monkeys that can be used for scientific research.
The cloning procedure used to create Dolly is called the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Other animals have been successfully cloned using this technique including mice, cats, pigs, dogs, and cattle. Scientists have previously used this process to clone monkeys but they were unsuccessful. Embryos were produced but they did not mature into baby animals. What’s different about this time is that the team in China modified new techniques to clone the macaque monkeys. Some of these methods had never been attempted on primates before.
However, as Science Magazine reports, even though they produced two baby macaques, the researchers still think that their success rate was low. That’s because embryos were implanted in over 60 female monkeys and only two monkeys were cloned. Also, they were only able to use fetal cells and not adult cells, which is another limation that will need to be addressed in the future.
The lead scientist on the project, Mu-Ping Poo, says that when SCNT is added to gene editing, researchers are able to create multiple “non-human primate models” that can be used for drug testing and investigations into various diseases.
But could this new development pave the way for human cloning? The cloning of these twin macaques does make it easier to imagine human clones becoming a reality. But as the Guardian notes, the low success rate illustrates the hurdles that researchers still have to overcome before the first human clone is born. In this case, certain molecules had to be added to the eggs before they were implanted in the mother in order to stimulate the process of embryo development. This is different from the way other animals were cloned. Who knows what else will have to be changed so that the process can work on humans.
The cute baby monkeys were named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. These names are derived from the Mandarin words for the Chinese nation and people. The full text of their research can be found in the journal Cell.