Chinese researchers have achieved a major breakthrough by successfully cloning the first healthy rhesus monkey using a new method that could pave the way for more advanced trials.
Cloning animals through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has had very low success rates since the technique was used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996 (CNN). This is largely due to abnormalities in the placenta that prevent development.
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai spent years honing the SCNT technique to clone two healthy monkeys, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, in 2018. However, both only lived a few weeks (DW).
Now, using an enhanced method of SCNT combined with a technique that enables monkeys to grow normally while still in the womb, researchers have achieved a successful breakthrough – a cloned monkey named Retro who is still alive and healthy after over 2 years (Telegraph).
Retro the cloned monkey. Image credit: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo, Chinese Academy of Sciences
The new technique, published in the science journal Cell, greatly improved the success rate of cloning by SCNT. It led to the creation of Retro – the first primate cloned with this method to live into adulthood (East Idaho News).
How Was This Achievement Possible
The researchers pioneered two innovative techniques:
Using fetal monkey cells to create chimeric embryos with placental tissues from naturally conceived monkeys in the womb. This enabled development of a healthy placenta.
Fusing fetal cells with adult monkey body cells before the SCNT process. This made the cells more robust for implantation.
Through these enhancements to SCNT, the scientists created over 5,000 monkey embryos, from which Retro was the only successful live clone so far. More embryos transfers to surrogate mothers are planned (The News).
Why This Matters
This cloning achievement has been hailed by many experts as highly significant, with huge implications:
It demonstrates major improvements to SCNT technology since Dolly the sheep 26 years ago (The Sun). This refines the technique for potential human therapeutic cloning in future.
It advances our knowledge towards tackling diseases through producing genetically uniform cloned animals for medical research (ScienceAlert).
It opens possibilities for saving critically endangered species through cloning (New Scientist).
However, experts agree that cloning humans would be unethical and scientifically unjustifiable (Daily Mail).
| Comparison of Mammal Cloning Success Rates |
| Species | Live Birth Success Rate of Clones | Survived into Adulthood |
| Sheep | 1-5% | Yes (Dolly) |
| Cattle | 5-20% | Yes |
| Pigs | 1-5% | No |
| Monkeys | <1% | Yes (Retro) |
Success rates of mammalian cloning showingRetro’s significance (Genetic Engineering News)
Now Retro has reached the juvenile stage, scientists will monitor his health and development closely through medical screening over the next 5 years (New Atlas). The team wants to use this refined SCNT technique to eventually clone gene-edited monkeys with certain diseases to enable medical research (Global News).
Further monkey clones and embryo transfers will be attempted to try and increase the success rate. However, experts warn this latest breakthrough still only brought 1 live clone from 5000 attempts, showing technical and biological challenges persist (ABC News). SCNT remains inefficient but this is a pivotal leap forward.
This monumental scientific achievement in China has profound implications for the future of genomic medicine. It demonstrates significant progress, though limitations around cloning primates safely persist. With stringent ethics guiding responsible innovations, experts are optimistic about the positive potential ahead. But for now, little Retro remains a breakthrough miracle of science.
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