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Zhongzhong and Huahua, two cloned macaques. Photo: Qiang Sun and Mu-Ming Poo / Chinese Academy of Sciences

Scientists at China's Institute of Neuroscience today announced the birth of two macaque clones. The monkeys aren't the first primates to be cloned, but they are the first to be created using a technique — the same that produced Dolly the sheep — that allows researchers to create a larger number of clones than other methods.

Why it matters: Genetically identical animals can be used to study the precise effect of a drug or a gene being altered through disease or editing. So far, researchers have struggled to come up with a way to clone close primate relatives of humans for research.

What to watch: “[The] first group of monkey clones will be models for neurodegenerative diseases,” Mu-ming Poo, co-author of the research and director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Neuroscience, told the Guardian.

How they did it: In somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning, DNA from the cell of the individual being cloned is transferred into an unfertilized egg, which is then placed in a surrogate mother to develop into a clone of the donor. The method has been successfully used in cats, pigs, dogs, rats and sheep but has proved technically challenging in monkeys.

In the new study, the researchers treated the fused egg to help with the development of the embryo and used DNA from macaque fetuses rather than adults in order to successfully clone the primates.

The researchers say the method can produce a larger number of clones than embryo splitting, which mimics how identical twins form but can give rise to only four clones from a naturally-produced embryo.

Yes, but: The Francis Crick Institute's Robin Lovell-Badge told the Guardian he was "doubtful as to whether the approach offers benefits over embryo splitting, given how few live babies were produced." The researchers report putting 79 embryos created using fetal cells into 21 surrogates, resulting in six pregnancies and ultimately two live macaques were born.

“This is so inefficient, so hazardous and unsafe, that I am not sure it is really justified, to be honest,” Lovell-Badge said.

What's next: Not humans, say the researchers. "[O]ur research purpose is entirely for producing non-human primate models for human diseases; we absolutely have no intention, and society will not permit, this work to be extended to humans," Poo tells the Guardian.

Go deeper: STAT's Sharon Begley on what monkey clones might mean for biomedical research.

Go deeper

38 mins ago - World

Biden huddles with European allies on Ukraine ahead of Putin call

Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."

Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to retire, will be CEO of Trump media org

Rep. Devin Nunes. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who serves as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, will retire at the end of the year and become CEO of Trump's new media organization.

Why it matters: Nunes, once considered a moderate member of the party, became one of the fiercest defenders of former President Donald Trump throughout both of Trump's impeachments and the Intel committee's Russia investigation.