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Scientists Successfully Cloned Macaque Monkeys: Will They Clone Humans Next?

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Scientists in China have reported using the cloning method used to produce Dolly the Sheep in the 1990s to create healthy monkeys.

SCNT Used To Produce Dolly The Sheep In The 1990s

Scientists have been cloning different kinds of animals, which include cats, frogs, mice, dogs, cows, pigs, and polo ponies since Dolly was born in 1996 but the experiment, which was reported in the journal Cell on Wednesday, Jan. 24, marks the first time that researchers used the technique called somatic cell transfer, or SCNT, to produce baby primates.

Cloning Primates Using SCNT

The process involved removing the nucleus from a monkey's egg that contains most of the genetic information. Researchers then replaced this nucleus from another cell. The reconstituted egg is then stimulated to develop into an embryo, which is then transplanted into a surrogate mother.

"Cloning macaque monkeys by SCNT is feasible using fetal fibroblasts," the researchers reported in their study. 

Are Humans Next?

Study researcher Muming Poo, from the Academy of Science in Shanghai, said that the feat means the barrier of cloning the primate species is already overcome. The work raised excitement and concern as this leads researchers closer to using the same technique to produce human clones. Monkeys, along with apes and humans, belong to the primates category.

Poo, however, said that his team does not have any intention to clone humans. Many scientists are also opposed to the idea of making humans by cloning. The practice could be banned for ethical reasons.

"I don't think it should be pursued," said Dieter Egli, from Columbia University. "I can't think of a strong benefit."

Promising But Still Inefficient

Ethical concern is one thing that could prevent scientists from cloning humans in the near future. The viability of using SCNT to produce human clones is another thing. 

Although successful in the experiment, the cloning process that the Chinese scientists used to produce two macaques is still inefficient. The researchers used 127 eggs but they were only able to produce two baby macaques. Scientists who were not part of the experiment said that the limited success rate seen in the experiment means that more work is still needed before the practice becomes common.

"The numbers are too low to make many conclusions, except that it remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure," said embryologist Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute.

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