Two identical baby macaques named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the first ever primates to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell, researchers in China announced on Wednesday.
The baby monkeys, born six and eight weeks ago, were cloned using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), according to research published in the scientific journal Cell. It is the same process that was used to clone Dolly the sheep over 20 years ago.
Although SCNT had been used to clone over 20 different animal species, primates — a mammal order that includes humans — have been more difficult.
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“The barrier has been broken by this work,” Muming Poo, director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai told news agency AFP.
The researchers said their work will greatly help medical researchers by making it possible to clone genetically uniform monkeys for studying diseases and medical trials. They are frequently used in research on cancer, brain diseases like Parkinson’s, as well as immune disorders.
“In the United States alone they are importing 30,000 to 40,000 monkeys each year by drug companies,” Poo told AFP, adding that having cloned monkeys would reduce the number needed for drug tests.
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