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China produces the first monkey clones in laboratory

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences announced yesterday that it has successfully cloned worlds first macaque Zhong Zhong from somatic cells on November 27, 2017, and a second cloned macaque Hua Hua a week later. The scientific journal Cell published a cover story on the research.

    Since Dolly the Sheep was successfully cloned from an adult cell in 1997, other mammals have also been cloned, but macaques, which are closely related to humans, have been a challenge.

    Sun Qiang, director of the CAS non-human-primate research facility, led a group of researchers for five years to tackle the biological difficulties and finally succeeded.

    Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the products of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), through which researchers edited genes in vitro and accurately sifted and produced somatic cells with the same genotype. They removed the nucleus from an egg cell and replaced it with another nucleus from differentiated body cells.

    The reconstructed eggs produced embryos, which were put into the wombs of surrogate female monkeys, producing a group of cloned monkeys with the same genetic background.

    The first author Liu Zhen, a postdoctoral fellow, spent three years practicing and optimizing the SCNT procedure. He tested various methods to quickly and precisely remove the nuclear materials from the egg cell and promote the fusion of the nucleus-donor cell and enucleated egg.

    This success means China will pioneer in disease and brain science research by taking cloned macaques as animal models, said Pu Muming, a co-author on the study who directs the Institute of Neuroscience of CAS center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology.

    At present, the lack of treatments for most brain diseases can be attributed to the fact that the mice widely used in labs have a noticeable gap with humans in genome types. Medicines coming out of the labs are often inefficacious or cause side-effects. But cloned monkey models will make a difference.

    The cloned monkey models will advance non-human primate model making in China, said Pu. In future, China will be a hub for pharmaceutical centers where companies will test new treatments for brain diseases, immunodeficiency or tumors on non-human primate models.