First cloned monkeys born in China

Chinese Scientists Have Successfully Cloned Monkeys

Genetically identical animals are useful in research because confounding factors caused by genetic variability in non-cloned animals can complicate experiments. Two female monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, resulted.

Cloning primates have proved much harder than other animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, horses, rats and mice since scientists successfully produced Dolly the cloned sheep in Scotland in July 1996. Their names stem from the Chinese word "Zhonghua", which means "Chinese nation" or "Chinese people".

"Cloning monkeys using somatic cells has been a world-class challenge because it is a primate that shares its genetic makeup - therefore all of its complexity - with humans", Pu Muming, director of the neuroscience institute said, according to state-run newspaper China Daily.

Still, Liu and colleagues are hopeful that the new cloning method may revive primate research and provide uniform genetic backgrounds that may make it easier to study and unravel genetic diseases.

The two newborns are now being bottle fed and are growing normally.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge of The Francis Crick Institute, London, said the technique used to clone Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua remains "a very inefficient and hazardous procedure".

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Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, called the study "very impressive technically".

Dolly made history 20 years ago after being cloned at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. The research team attempted to clone monkeys from adult cells as well as cells taken from fetal connective tissue. Researchers then popped the DNA into egg cells that they had also cleared of their DNA-containing nuclei.

The monkeys are a technical breakthrough for SCNT, but they're not the first cloned primates. It involves scientists reconstructing an unfertilized egg, rather than simply splitting an embryo, as was the case with Tetra - which utilised a process similar to the naturally occurring splitting of an embryo that produces identical twins. In the Chinese experiment, 79 embryos were created and implanted into 21 surrogates.

"This will generate real models not just for genetically based brain diseases, but also cancer, immune or metabolic disorders, and allow us to test the efficacy of the drugs for these conditions before clinical use", said Dr Sun. The last two pregnant monkeys could carry their babies beyond 130 days, and two baby monkeys were born via cesarean, but the first one died 3 hours later due to impaired body development and the second one following him, died 30 hours later due to respiratory failure.

The same method that helped clone Dolly the Sheep nearly 22 years ago helped Chinese scientists clone monkeys, illuminating science with models that could be beneficial for understanding human medical issues.

Scientists at the Shanghai institute said they followed worldwide guidelines for animal research set by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, but called for a debate on what should or should not be acceptable practice in primate cloning.

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