After Monkey Cloning Success, Are Humans Next?

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Once the hoo-ha has dies down about the news that scientists in China have cloned a pair of monkeys, the fear is the next step is to try the experiment on humans.

For years, scientists have tried to clone mammals such as horses and apes after the success of Dolly the Sheep, who was born in 1996 and lived until 2003.

Dolly died of lung disease and contracted bad arthritis, but still managed to mother six lambs.

In China, the research team seems to have defeated all the problems of cloning healthy mammals.

Photos of two long-tailed macaques looking healthy have been circulated with news of the breakthrough.

Dolly the Sheep techniques repeated

“It’s a significant advance. Nobody has previously been able to create a cloned non-human primate,” said Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem cell centre at the University of California, San Francisco.

The monkeys were born to surrogate mothers 10 days apart in a Shanghai laboratory.

The researchers confirmed that they had used the same cloning techniques as the Dolly the Sheep team two decades ago.

Kriegstein explained cloning humans may still be some way off as the Chinese team had tried to work on cells from an adult macaque unsuccessfully. Instead they had to harvest cells from aborted foetuses.

The Chinese were not lucky first time around either.

Scores of failed pregnancies

They started trying to transplant 181 embryos to surrogate mothers, but the experiments only led to 22 pregnancies and two more births, but both baby monkeys died of respiratory failure within 30 hours.

Scientists around the world have commented that they are not surprised the breakthrough happened in China as researchers elsewhere have stepped back from experimenting with monkeys because of their close relationship with humans.

“The trend in recent years has been to do less and less non-human primate research, largely because of the sensitivity surrounding using primates for research purposes. Many of the primate colonies in the United States have been closed down and the number of researchers working on non-human primates has dropped,” said Kriegstein.

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