China clones gene-edited monkeys to aid disorder research

The animals were born with an inoperative BMAL1 gene which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and was altered using the CRISPR

Chinese scientists clone five gene-edited monkeys

Though gene editing has significant potential to benefit human health, He's experiment with viable human embryos appeared to many to be "a poorly designed and regrettable effort to win a "race" and grab attention", Dimitri Perrin, a senior lecturer and an expert in gene editing and CRISPR technology at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, said in a statement.

The research actually cloned over 300 embryos which were implanted into dozens of surrogate mothers to carry them.

Chinese scientists genetically engineered a monkey to induce a sleep disorder and then successfully cloned the animal five times, Chinese state media reported Thursday.

Cells from a donor monkey were used to clone the five using the method of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

These monkeys exhibited a wide-range of circadian disorder phenotypes, including reduced sleep time, elevated night-time locomotive activities, dampened circadian cycling of blood hormones, increased anxiety and depression, as well as schizophrenia-like behaviors.

A gene-edited monkey most prone to suffering circadian disorders was selected as a donor.

"Our BMAL1-knock out monkeys therefore could be used to study the disease pathogens as well as therapeutic treatments", he added.

The scientists claimed that the clones created using skin cells will help understand human diseases. He Jiankui organized and handled funding for the experiment without outside assistance in violation of national guidelines, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Dr. He Jiankui made headlines last November after claiming he altered human embryos with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life - resulting in the birth of genetically edited twin girls.

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Time will tell whether these five cloned macaques herald a new age in transgenic animal models, or represent an ethical line few will be keen to cross again any time soon.

Liu Zhen, a researcher of the Institute of Neuroscience of Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduces relative research achievements about the cloned monkeys.

He said that the research signified the maturing of China's somatic cell cloning.

"It shows that besides using fetus, batch cloning of gene-edited male monkeys with diseases is also feasible", Qiang Sun of the institute said.

The researchers have already bred a group of gene-edited monkeys and the latest experiment involved cloning an adult male that had displayed the most severe symptoms.

The Chinese researchers aim to better the technique used to boost cloning efficiency.

China's Xinhua news agency (via Reuters) claims that the research was "in line with worldwide ethical standards for animal research", but the ethical discussion around the experiment otherwise doesn't appear to be publicly available right now.

"This line of research will help to reduce the amount of macaque monkeys now used in bio-medical research around the world", he said.

It is also the same general method used to clone Dolly the sheep more than two decades ago.

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