In a bid to learn more about the human brain, scientists in China have added a human brain to the genome of rhesus monkeys. It's called MC HP1, or microcephalin, and it's involved in regulating the fetal growth of the brain.
The addition does seem to have made the monkeys smarter. The transgenic animals' brains took longer to develop – more like those of human children – and they also exhibited better memory skills, and faster reaction times, compared to their unmodified peers.
human cognition using a transgenic monkey model, "geneticist Bing Su of the Kunming Institute of Zoology Technology Review.
Transgenic organisms are nothing new. The first was published in 1
Human genes have been added to monkeys to study diseases and conditions, as well as autism, and altered human cognition genes, including altered microcephalin.
It is, scientists say, an experiment with concerning ethical implications.
The team exposed the monkey embryo to a virus carrying human microcephalin. This generated 11 transgenic rhesus monkeys carrying the human gene, only five of whom actually survived.
"Our findings proved that transgenic nonhuman primates (excluding ape species) have the potential to provide important – and potentially unique – insights into basic issues of human beings unique, as well as into disorders and clinically relevant phenotypes," the Scholars wrote in their paper.
But not everyone agrees. In fact, a 2010 paper expressly condemns the entire concept of editing apes with human brain genes (although not necessarily monkeys), calling such potential studies "ethically unacceptable"
But using monkeys
"The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution" is a very risky road to take, "said James Sikela of the University of Colorado's geneticist who co-authored that paper , Technology Review.
"It is a classic slippery slope issue and one that we can expect to recur as this type of research is pursued."
In addition, one of the researchers of this latest study, computer scientist Martin Styner of the University of North Carolina, noted that there were aspects of the study that would not be allowed in a country with strict regulations, such as the US. In fact, the research was unable to find a publisher in the West.
Chinese genetic research is already being side-eyed after the work of geneticist He Jiankui. His American collaborator, Michael Deem of Rice University, has thus come under fire.
It's difficult to know whether Jiankui's shadow, but the geneticist is not letting it slow him down. He is already at work making new transgenic monkeys.
But Styner said he was taking his name off the paper.
"Now we have created this animal which is different from it.
"And they do not think they are." are getting there. "
The research has been published in National Science Review .