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China makes history with first-ever cloning of macaques

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨CCTV.com

02-02-2018 14:19 BJT

By Rabi Sankar Bosu, Indian freelance contributor to Chinese media outlets

The Chinese research team’s successful cloning macaques’ announcement had captured much attention from the global media. On Jan. 24, Chinese scientists announced they had successfully cloned two long-tailed macaque monkeys using 'Dolly the sheep' techniques. Accordingly, Chinese scientists have pushed the boundaries of genetic engineering, which can contribute to our world. Meanwhile, the feat of cloning monkeys has rekindled speculation that researchers stand on the threshold of  cloning humans.

Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Stem Cell Center at University of California in San Francisco told AP, "It’s a significant advance. Nobody has previously been able to create a cloned non-human primate.” The cloning of primates was considered more difficult than horses, sheep and other mammals, which means cloning macaque monkeys is a historic breakthrough, marking China as the first country to independently master monkey-clone technology via somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

(Cloned Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at the non-human-primate research facility under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai    Photo from Xinhua)

(Cloned Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at the non-human-primate research facility under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai Photo from Xinhua)

The cloning was reported in the prestigious scientific journal Cell. Two cloned macaques, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, were produced at the non-human-primate research facility under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai at the end of 2017. They are the first non-human primates to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The combined characters in their names form, "Zhonghua," meaning the Chinese nation.

The Chinese monkeys were born around 20 years after the cloning's poster child, Dolly, the sheep, was successfully cloned from an adult cell on July 5, 1996 in Scotland. According to researchers, it opens up the possibility to create genetically uniform populations of monkeys that could be a boon for medical research. The Global Times has written the birth of cloned monkeys is a “manifestation of the progress of science and technology in China.”

Since the birth of the first cloned animal, Dolly the Sheep, cloning has always been a highly controversial procedure that raises a slew of ethical issues, including animal welfare. While the research represents a significant breakthrough in cloning science, some critics from the Western media have called the experiment, “monstrous,” since it can open the door for copying humans in the future. Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University, told National Geographic, “The genie’s out of the bottle now.” The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) condemned Chinese plans to create more clones for drug-testing as a "horror show."

Nonetheless, the Chinese research team has asserted they have no plans to conduct similar research on humans. On Jan. 24, at a news conference in China, the director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, Poo Muming said the work was conducted to produce primates that could be used as models to understand human medical issues. "We have no plan to clone humans and social ethics would by no means allow that practice," said Poo Muming.

It’s encouraging to hear the majority of overseas scientists hailed China's first monkey clones as "significant advance" for better human disease research. Calling the study "very impressive” from a technical standpoint, Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, told AFP, “Cloning primates has been proven as much harder than cloning other species like dogs, cats, pigs, horses and so on. So to achieve that in primates has been quite a technical advance." Griffin is correct since the production of such cloned animals could allow scientists to use less animals for their research on cancer, brain diseases, such as Parkinson's, as well as immune disorders.

In a written interview with Xinhua on January 27, Robert Desimone, Director of McGovern Institute of Brain Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in Massachusetts state, said cloning methods may be "particularly useful for combining several disease-related mutations in the same animal."

Yet, it should be noted that there was much failure before Chinese scientists found a way to successfully clone a monkey. The baby macaques were the only two born from a group of 79 cloned embryos. It can be expected that more macaque clones could be born over the coming months, following very strict ethical standards.

The successful monkey cloning by Chinese scientists sends a message that China is becoming a global scientific leader. According to the national plan on science and technology innovation during the 2016-2020 period, the Chinese government is funding heavily in research and development (R&D) fields ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) technology to biology.

With efforts to become a leading innovator by 2030 and the undisputed global science and tech powerhouse by 2049, Beijing is spending much more in science and technology innovations as the United States and Europe have pulled back. China's research and development expenditures in 2017 ranked second in the world. And China has achieved its prized result - the birth of cloned monkeys.

The world can expect to witness more landmark achievements in science and technology from China for promoting human well-being in the near future.

(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com)


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