Chinese scientists implant human brain genes in monkeys

Chinese scientists have implanted genes from the human brain into monkeys, taking another step towards what has been described as the realm of the "ethical nightmare" of gene editing.

In a study published last month in the National Science Review of Beijing, the journal of the Chinese Academy of Sciences sponsored by the state, scientists inserted the human gene, MCPH1, which has been linked to brain development, in 11 monkeys' embryos. through a virus that transmitted the virus. Gene in the brains of monkeys.

Of the 11 rhesus macaque monkeys that were used in the experiment, six of them died. Experiments were performed on the remaining five.

"The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes related to the evolution of the brain is a very risky path," James Sikela, a geneticist who works with primates at the University of Colorado, told the MIT Technology Review.

"It's worrisome that the field is creeping in this way."

Abstract science or abstract science?

The experiment, according to the Chinese scientific team, was an attempt to understand the evolutionary process that led to human intelligence. The researchers believe that the MCPH1 gene can provide part of the response.

The scientists conducted a series of tests on transgenic monkeys, including magnetic resonance imaging and memory tests, which showed that monkeys had better short-term memory and faster reaction times than the control group. Their brains also took longer to develop, similar to what happens in humans.

Although the Chinese team says its findings are significant, other scientists remain very skeptical.

Rhesus and baby
A rhesus monkey carries his baby on his back in the Hlawga National Park, in Mingaladon. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP / Getty Images)

Martin Styner, a computer scientist at the University of North Carolina, who co-authored the study, told the MIT Technology Review that he was considering getting his name out of the newspaper. Styner's role was limited to teaching Chinese students how to use magnetic resonance data to collect data on brain volume, he said.

"When we do experiments, we have to have a good understanding of what we are trying to learn, to help society, and that is not the case here." Styner told MIT Technology Review.

"I do not think it's a good address.

"They're trying to understand brain development, and I do not think they're getting there."

Rhesus monkeys
ZHENGZHOU, CHINA – JANUARY 27: Rhesus monkeys are hugged in the snow at Zhengzhou Zoo on January 27, 2018 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China. (Photo by VCG / VCG through Getty Images)

Barbara J. King, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, in an email interview with Vox, said the rationale for the experiment was flawed.

"More than the genetically altered monkeys, six, died from what they lived, so from the beginning we see that the procedure is often lethal," King said.

This type of experiment is "an ethical nightmare," he added.

"The costs are terribly high and the benefits for humanity are approaching zero; "There is a growing recognition that animal models simply do not work well to study complex human processes," King said.

"What right do we have to subject these primates to grotesque procedures of this kind?"

A different monkey business

China has been at the forefront of questionable scientific advances. In January, Chinese scientists intentionally cloned monkeys with genes that gave them debilitating conbad diseases. The stated intention of these modifications was to use these monkeys as models to create different diseases based on genes.

The scientists modified their genes in a way that disrupted the monkey's natural sleep cycles, or circadian rhythms. The monkeys are expected to have a life full of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

In China, a mbadive monkey breeding industry has grown in recent years to meet the growing demand of scientists for test subjects, according to The Atlantic. These facilities breed macaque monkeys for use in domestic research, or mainly to export to researchers abroad. The price for a single monkey is much lower in China too: only $ 1,500, compared to $ 6,000 in the United States.

The Atlantic reported that many American scientists travel to China to conduct experiments that are ethically unacceptable in the United States. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has also increased funding for these types of research projects over the years.

Last November, a Chinese researcher created shockwaves in the scientific community after he claimed to have altered the DNA of a group of human twins, by editing the girls' embryonic genes to supposedly increase their immunity to the HIV virus. Although the scientist, He Jiankui, was publicly reprimanded and dismissed from his position at the university, others suspected that he may have received state support.

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