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Scientists successfully clone monkeys; could humans be next?

  • Cloned monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua sit together with a fabric toy. Chinese Academy of Sciences via AP

  • In this undated photo provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, cloned monkey Zhong Zhong sits with a fabric toy. For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create two healthy monkeys, potentially bringing scientists closer to being able to do that with humans. (Sun Qiang and Poo Muming/Chinese Academy of Sciences via AP) Sun Qiang and Poo Muming

  • Poo Muming, director of the Institute of Neurosciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences speaks during an interview at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create two healthy monkeys, potentially bringing scientists closer to being able to do that with humans. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein

  • Sun Qiang, center, the director of the Nonhuman Primate Facility of the Institute of Neurosciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, speaks as Poo Muming, left, director of the Institute of Neurosciences and Liu Zhen, right, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Neurosciences listen during a press conference at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create two healthy monkeys, potentially bringing scientists closer to being able to do that with humans. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein

  • In this undated photo provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, cloned monkey Hua Hua sits with a fabric toy. For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create two healthy monkeys, potentially bringing scientists closer to being able to do that with humans. (Sun Qiang and Poo Muming/Chinese Academy of Sciences via AP) Sun Qiang and Poo Muming

  • Sun Qiang, the director of the Nonhuman Primate Facility of the Institute of Neurosciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences speaks to reporters after a press conference at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create two healthy monkeys, potentially bringing scientists closer to being able to do that with humans. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein



Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

NEW YORK — For the first time, researchers have used the cloning method that produced Dolly the sheep to create healthy monkeys, bringing science an important step closer to being able to do the same with humans.

Since Dolly’s birth in 1996, scientists have cloned nearly two dozen kinds of mammals, including dogs, cats, pigs, cows and polo ponies, and have also created human embryos with this method. But until now, they have been unable to make babies this way in primates, the category that includes monkeys, apes and people.

“The barrier of cloning primate species is now overcome,” declared Muming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

In a paper released Wednesday by the journal Cell, he and his colleagues announced that they successfully created two macaques. The female baby monkeys, about 7 and 8 weeks old, are named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua.

In principle, Poo said, the feat means humans can be cloned. But he said his team has no intention of doing that. Mainstream scientists generally oppose making human babies by cloning, and Poo said society would ban it for ethical reasons.

Jose Cibelli, a scientist at Michigan State University, said it might be technically possible someday, but “criminal” to try now because of the suffering caused by the many lost pregnancies the process entails.

Instead the goal is to create lots of genetically identical monkeys for use in medical research, where they would be valuable because they are more like humans than other lab animals such as mice.

The Chinese researchers said cloning of fetal cells could be combined with gene editing techniques to produce large numbers of monkeys with certain genetic defects that cause disease in people. The animals could then be used to study such diseases.

If the procedure became efficient enough in monkeys, he said, society could face “a big ethical dilemma” over whether to adapt it for humans. The key step of transferring DNA might be combined with gene editing to correct genetic disorders in embryos, allowing healthy babies to be born, he said.

Of course, the familiar image of human cloning involves making a copy of someone already born. That might be possible someday, but “I don’t think it should be pursued,” said researcher Dieter Egli of Columbia University. “I can’t think of a strong benefit.”

Henry Greely, a Stanford University law professor who specializes in the implications of biomedical technologies, said the strongest argument he can think of would be the desire of grieving parents to produce a genetic duplicate of a dead child. But he doubts that’s a compelling enough reason to undertake the extensive and costly effort needed to get such a procedure approved, at least for “decades and decades.”

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, called it unethical to subject that new child to “the psychological and emotional risks of living under the shadow of its genetic predecessor.” Human cloning could also require many women to donate eggs and to serve as surrogates, she said.

At the moment, because of safety concerns, federal regulators in the U.S. would not allow making a human baby by cloning, and international scientific groups also oppose it, said biomedical ethics expert Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals condemned the monkey-cloning experiments.

“Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time and money — and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement.