In a first, Chinese researchers have achieved the goal of cloning a rhesus monkey, marking a major leap forward in primate cloning technology. This achievement comes over 25 years after Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal. The cloning of the rhesus monkey is considered a significant accomplishment due to its widespread use in medical research. Because of its physiological similarity to humans, which is why the researchers could speed up drug testing.
Rhesus monkeys are mostly found in the wild areas of Asia, with populations in Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. They are used in various trials to study infection and immunity.
In 2018, the first macaque monkeys were cloned, but because of their genetic similarity to humans, rhesus monkeys are preferred by medical researchers.
Previous attempts at cloning a rhesus monkey have either not led to births or the offspring have died a few hours later. Sexual reproduction in mammals leads to offspring made up of a mixture of genes from their father and mother. Cloning involves the techniques that are used to create a genetically identical copy of a single animal.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) neuroscience, genetics, and developmental biology institutes published the research in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal Nature Communications on January 16, 2024.
Dolly the sheep, the most famous cloned animal, was cloned in 1996. For this cloning, scientists reprogrammed skin cells from another sheep to turn them into embryos, which are building block cells that can grow into any part of an organism. Then these embryos were implanted into Dolly's surrogate mother.
In a report published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists explained that they have essentially replicated a similar process used with a rhesus monkey. They also mentioned that the monkey has stayed healthy for over two years, showing that the cloning was a success.
They named the monkey 'ReTro,' born on July 16, 2020, the second primate species that scientists have successfully cloned.
But a spokesperson for the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said that the organization believed that the animal suffering caused outweighed any immediate benefit to human patients.
1. Liao, Z., Zhang, J., Sun, S. et al. Reprogramming mechanism dissection and trophoblast replacement application in monkey somatic cell nuclear transfer. Nat Commun 15, 5 (2024). Available on https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-43985-7
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