First cloned monkeys born in China

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The first two cloned monkeys created by Chinese researchers have recently caught much spotlight on the worldwide stage, as experts overseas praised the study as a technical advance with the potential of furthering human disease research.

The two cloned female crab-eating macaques, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua (after the word "Zhonghua", meaning "Chinese Nation"), were born at the Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in late December.

Using the technique which gave birth to the famous Dolly the sheep, they managed to create two identical copies of macaques.

"A primate model that can be generated with a known and uniform genetic background would undoubtedly be very useful in the study, understanding and ultimately treatment, of human diseases, especially those with a genetic element", he said.

However, the Chinese scientists who carried out the research said their interest in cloning primates came from a strictly medical perspective.

Zhong Zhong was born eight weeks ago and Hua Hua six weeks ago.

But it has also raised ethical concerns, with critics arguing that this could possibly be one step closer to human cloning.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge of The Francis Crick Institute, London, said the technique used to clone Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua remains "a very inefficient and hazardous procedure".

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Professor Darren Griffiths, a geneticist at the University of Kent who was not involved in the study, confirmed there were clear benefits to this research.

"The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones", he said.

Griffin said cloning primates have proven "much harder" than cloning other species like dogs, cats, pigs, horses and so on.

"Careful consideration now needs to be given to the ethical framework under which such experiments can, and should, operate", he said. This is then prompted to develop into an embryo and implanted in a surrogate animal.

Despite concerns, however, the research team insists that they have no plans to clone humans following the milestone achievement.

After the DNA was transferred to donated eggs, genetic reprogramming was used to switch on or off genes that would otherwise have suppressed embryo development.

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are not the first monkeys to be produced by cloning.

"Just like nuclear power and artificial intelligence, cloning technology is also a double-edged sword", said Dr Qiang Sun, the director of the Suzhou Nonhuman Primate Research Facility and leader of the study. "There was much failure before we found a way to successfully clone a monkey".

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