Cloning of monkeys prompts fears about the consequences for humans

Same technique used 20 years ago for Dolly the sheep. Scientists behind cloning say the experiment will lead to use of cloned apes in pharmaceutical research. For some scientists the technique is "ineffective": only two macaques born from 79 embryos. Card. Sgreccia: Risk of considering the monkey equal to man.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - A group of Chinese scientists have cloned two monkeys using the same process that led to the birth of Dolly the sheep 20 years ago. The two monkeys, two macaques, have been called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua (Zhong Hua means "the Chinese homeland"). They were born at the Neuroscience Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai and are the result of years of research on a technique called "somatic cell nuclear transfer".

The process involves removing the nucleus from a healthy egg, replaced by the nucleus of another type of cell. The resulting clone is the same as the creature that donated the nucleus.

Sun Qiang (photo 2 centre), the director of the Non-human Primate Facility of the Institute of Neurosciene, part of the team behind the cloning, confesses that " There was much failure before we found a way to successfully clone a monkey". This way is to use cells from foetal connective tissue. The use of adult donor cells led to the death of clones within hours of birth.

Pu Muming, director of the Institute of Neuroscience and co-author of the cloning (photo 2, left), said that this technique could also clone human beings, but the concern of his group is the cloning of monkeys for medical research. The monkeys are used in medical research concerning diseases of the brain, Parkinson's, cancer, immunity and metabolism disorders.  "In the United States - said Dr. Pu - the pharmaceutical companies import from 30 to 40 thousand monkeys every year "for experiments on primates, whose reactions are close to those of human beings. "For ethical reasons - he said For ethical reasons I think having cloned monkey will greatly reduce the [number of] monkeys used for drug tests.".

The clonng has met with a great deal of criticism. The British scientist Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Francis Crick Institute, points out that the process used is "a very inefficient and hazardous procedure ". In fact, only two clones were born from a group of 79 embryos. For Lovell-Badge, then thinking of applying the technique to human cloning is a "crazy", "too inefficient, too insecure and useless" attempt.


Other scientists remember that the sheep Dolly was a half failure: the team put her down because they had detected her premature aging. In this way it was not possible to test if cloning is harmless and whether it is really necessary.

Vatican Radio reports a statement by Card. Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who condemned the experiment, calling it "a threat to the future of man". "There is no doubt - he said - that the transition from the first sheep Dolly to other animals and now even the monkey, or a primate so close to man, represents a genuine attack on the future of humanity".

"Behind the desire to clone a monkey we can hide a tendency that has already emerged in other areas of research, that of leading man to the monkey and the monkey to man and finally to consider the monkey the same as man".