Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, two very cute little macaques made global headlines in 2018 when they were revealed as the first cloned primates. Scientists have been trying to clone primates for decades, an effort which picked up steam after Dolly the Sheep was successfully cloned in 1996. Now Chinese scientists have worked their way through the barriers which kept cloning of primates nealy impossible through a series of new processes. More: the technique cold conceivably be used to create an unlimited number of genetically identical clones.
Why all this hother and pother over the cloning of macaques? Well, primarily because another member of the primate family is Homo Sapiens. It opens the way finally to the possibility of cloned human beings.
As of writing, (May of 2019) its been a little more than a year since publicly shared research demonstrated that cloning our weirdly complex branch of the Tree of Life is now possible, and its already gone off the rails.
A different group of Chinese scientists have announced that they have created five clones of different monkey, But this time the original is one that has been genetically altered. Using CRISPR technology, the team altered the original to inflict on it a disorder that causes a bevy of horrifying psychological side effects — and the research is not only an ethical nightmare, but in the eyes of many it amounts to genetically inflicted torture
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the animal’s BMAL1 gene, which alters natural circadian rhythms in some mammals, while it was still an embryo.
Then they cloned it.
All five newborn monkeys immediately began exhibiting a “wide-range of circadian disorder phenotypes,” including reduced sleep, increased movement at night, schizophrenia-like behaviors, and signs of anxiety and depression.
Think ofRandall 6 in Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein series.
While it is stomach churning, you can see the general effects in a disturbing video which the team released to supplement the reports of their research.
The researchers believe the potential benefits outweigh the ethical morass of purposefully creating lives destined to suffer.
“Disorder of circadian rhythm could lead to many human diseases, including sleep disorders, diabetic mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases,” researcher Hung-Chun Chang said in a press release. “Our BMAL1-knock out monkeys thus could be used to study the disease pathogenesis as well as therapeutic treatments.”
There’s also the possibility that cloning genetically altered animals could actually reduce the number needed for research.
“Without the interference of genetic background, a much smaller number of cloned monkeys carrying disease phenotypes may be sufficient for pre-clinical tests of the efficacy of therapeutics,” researcher Mu-ming Poo said in the press release.
Needless to say, this raises serious and outright horrifying ethical issues. And not just related to animal cruelty issues. Of which there are several:
Consider the number of unsuccessful attempts before these five disordered monkeys were produced — 65 surrogates underwent embryo implantations, 16 pregnancies resulted but only five births. 60 female macaques were implanted, impregnated and failed in producing live births.
And despite invoking Diabetes and Cancer cures, (which: how can you go wrong there? There really isnt even any guarantee that the research will apply to human biology lots of animals studies produce nothing useful to humans.
“If I were on an ethics review committee, I would be very hesitant to approve [this research] because of the incredible amount of harm to the animals,” bioethicist Carolyn Neuhaus told Gizmodo. “I would expect the scientists who are proposing this research to have very good responses to very hard questions about their methods and the expected benefits of their research.”
One of those unanswerable questions is based on the very premise of cloning primates. How ‘human’ does a cloned or artificially designed organism have to be before it would be illegal to experiment on it in this way?