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China has tweaked genes to create five mad monkeys. It is the only country in the world with the technology to clone primates bred in captivity. Expert calls it ‘very irresponsible’, while others say it is ultimately justified

Medical ethics experts are divided over an experiment in which Chinese scientists cloned gene-edited monkeys to induce mental illness in them.

The five cloned monkey embryos had been edited to remove the BMAL1 gene, leading the baby animals to display symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia as a result of disruption to their circadian rhythms, according to a study published in National Science Review on Thursday.

The findings by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Neuroscience could help develop treatments for a range of human medical conditions including sleep disorders, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, according to team member Chang Hung-Chun.

The study has drawn attention for its use of cloned animals, as well as the researchers’ use of the gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas 9.


That tool was also used by He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who recently created the world’s first genetically edited human babies as part of a controversial and unauthorised experiment.

China confirms the birth of the gene-edited babies, but says He Jiankui braked the rules

But unlike He’s experiment, the cloned macaque’s study was authorised and funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shanghai municipal government.

Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester in Britain, called it “disturbing news”.


“Human mental illnesses are complex, and even harder to predict than purely physical diseases,” he said. “The likely benefit from harming animals in this way is extremely small. However, there is no doubt that these animals will suffer – and probably, very significantly. Primates are highly intelligent and social animals. It is not ethical to deliberately harm them, and especially when the chance of tangible benefit for human patients is so small.





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