For the first time ever, scientists have successfully cloned a rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta), a primate species noted for its closeness to humans.
This comes more than a quarter of a century since Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal.
The experts in China used somatic cells – animal cells other than sperm and egg cells – from a rhesus monkey to create the genetically identical copy.
The clone (pictured above) is “healthy” and has survived for more than two years since its birth in Beijing, unlike prior efforts to clone the species.
However, experts still rule out “unjustifiable” human cloning, as it still has too many ethical and safety considerations.
The rhesus monkey clone was created using a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) by Qiang Sun and colleagues at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
The Rhesus macaque is of interest because it is close to humans anatomically and physiologically and has been used a lot already in research on human health.
“Notably, no rhesus monkey has been cloned through somatic cell nuclear transfer so far,” the experts say in their paper, published today, Jan. 16, in Nature Communications.
“[We report] the successful cloning of a healthy male rhesus monkey… and introduce a promising strategy for primate cloning.”
The SCNT technique takes a somatic cell, such as a skin cell, and moves its DNA to an egg cell with its nucleus removed.
Somatic cells contain the genetic information on how an organism is built, but cannot give rise to new organisms, which is why the technique involves the DNA transfer to an egg cell.
If the transfer is successful, the process will lead to a complete reprogramming of the genetic material in the nucleus and enable the egg to start dividing and form a cloned embryo, which is provided with a healthy placenta to grow in.
SCNT has previously resulted in the successful cloning of various mammalian species, including Dolly the sheep in 1996.