Cloning monkeys in China

Quite a number of media organizations recently reported on the cloning of 2 surviving Macaque monkeys at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China. Two other cloned monkeys in the same experiment expired immediately after birth. The difference between surviving and expired monkeys was the source of their nuclear DNA (nDNA): in the surviving monkeys it came from a fetal fibroblast, while in the two deceased monkeys the fibroblast used came from adult animals. “Young,” therefore, is obviously better than “old.”

Uniformly, the media reported this as “a world-wide first” in subhuman primates, presented these experiments as “breaching a genetic barrier” (The Wall Street Journal) and bringing the world a step closer to human cloning.

But it actually wasn’t “a first” because, already in 2002, the team of Shoukhrat Mitalipov, PhD in Oregon reported production of healthy Rhesus monkey embryos by nuclear transfer from embryonic blastomeres or somatic cells [Mitalipov et al., Biol Reprod 2002;66(5):1367-1373].

The Wall Street Journal in covering this story, however, did get an important context right: China is on the march in reproductive sciences, and quickly will become a scientific superpower not only because of incredible investments the government is making in this (and other) fields of medicine but also because much looser government regulations in China allow scientists to perform reproductive research much more freely.

A good example is that, at a time when primate research in the U.S. has become almost impossible, China defined creation of primate models for diseases as a national goal. What makes a super power are not only weapons!

This is a part of the February 2018 CHR VOICE.