Jan 24, 2018

Remember Dolly? The first monkeys were just cloned the same way

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.

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George Zimmerman sues Buttigieg and Warren for $265M

George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, in November 2013. Photo: Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images

George Zimmerman filed a lawsuit in Polk County, Fla. seeking $265 million in damages from Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, accusing them of defaming him to "garner votes in the black community."

Context: Neither the Massachusetts senator nor the former Southbend mayor tweeted his name in the Feb. 5 posts on what would've been the 25th birthday of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen Zimmerman fatally shot in 2012. But Zimmerman alleges they "acted with actual malice" to defame him.

4 takeaways from the Nevada Democratic debate

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The relative civility of the last eight Democratic debates was thrown by the wayside Wednesday night, the first debate to feature the billionaire "boogeyman," Michael Bloomberg, whose massive advertising buys and polling surge have drawn the ire of the entire field.

The big picture: Pete Buttigieg captured the state of the race early on, noting that after Super Tuesday, the "two most polarizing figures on this stage" — Bloomberg and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders — could be the only ones left competing for the nomination. The rest of candidates fought to stop that momentum.

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Buttigieg and Klobuchar in Las Vegas on Feb. 19. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after Sen. Amy Klobuchar on the debate stage Wednesday for voting to confirm Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and voting in 2007 to make English the national language.

What she's saying: "I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete, but let me tell you what it's like to be in the arena. ... I did not one bit agree with these draconian policies to separate kids from their parents, and in my first 100 days, I would immediately change that."