Chinese team clones monkeys from fetal cells, raising qualms about human cloning

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"You can produce cloned monkeys with the same genetic background except the gene you manipulated", senior study author Qiang Sun, director of the institute's Nonhuman Primate Research Facility, said in a news release.

In times past, there have been scattered successes in the cloning of mammals like mice, sheep and cattle; however, the cloning of monkeys which is the closest primate to human had proven unsuccessful.

In this undated photo provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, cloned monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua sit together with a fabric toy.

Zhen Liu, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and colleagues examined the feasibility of cloning cynomolgus monkeys by SCNT to generate genetically uniform non-human primates for establishing animal models for research.

The process used by the Chinese scientists relied on fetal cells rather than adult cells and is not very efficient, requiring many failed attempts just to create these two successful clones, Greely said.

One day, the approach might be used to create large populations of genetically identical monkeys that could be used for medical research - and avoid taking monkeys from the wild.

Two monkeys have been cloned using the technique that produced Dolly the sheep.

"For the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken", Study coauthor Mu-Ming Poo said to Nat Geo.

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The team's success rate increased when it transferred nuclei taken from foetal differentiated cells such as fibroblasts, a cell type in the connective tissue. That title goes to Tetra, a rhesus monkey born in 1999 through the much simpler method of embryo splitting that does not employ DNA transfer.

Regardless, Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong are scientific miracles in the flesh.

Despite decades of trying, no one had ever succeeded in using the same method used to create Dolly to clone a primate. Now, 22 years after Dolly sparked fears of human cloning just around the corner, we have Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua: the first primates cloned using the technique.

Genetically identical: Cloned monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua.

It took 127 eggs to clone the mammals. But that work was done to obtain human embryonic stem cells for research.

Marcy Darnovsky, of California's Center for Genetics and Society, told the Associated Press (AP) that it would be unethical to subject a cloned child to "the psychological and emotional risks of living under the shadow of its genetic predecessor", reports The New York Times.

Cloning requires specialized technicians, state of the art equipment, and many animals to work with. However, he stressed that "there is no intention to apply this method to humans".

The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics warned the research "opens the door" to human cloning.