In a major breakthrough, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai have successfully cloned long-tailed macaque monkeys. This is the first instance in which scientists have cloned primates, and it could open the door to cloning humans in the future. “Humans are primates. So (for) the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken,” cloning program supervisor Muming Poo told reporters. However, Poo insisted that the cloning of primates was intended to serve research purposes, particularly for medicine and human health.

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The famous primate clones, two identical long-tailed macaques that were born two weeks apart, have been named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. At less than two months old, the young monkeys are growing normally and are expected to be soon joined by additional macaque clones born within months. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were created through a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), in which the nucleus of a cell, with its contained genetic information, is transferred into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed. This technique has been used to successfully clone over 20 species of animals, including dogs, cows, and pigs. Perhaps the most famously cloned species is the sheep, which became the first mammal species to be cloned from an adult somatic cell in 1996 when Dolly the sheep was born in Scotland.

Related: China to break ground on world’s largest animal cloning factory next year

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Previous attempts to use SCNT to clone primates had failed. Even the recent success was the result of repeated failure; 127 eggs were used to produce the two live macaque births. “It remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure,” Robin Lovell-Badge, a cloning expert at the Francis Crick Institute in London and unaffiliated with the primate cloning in China, told Reuters. “The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt.”

Via Reuters

Images via Chinese Academy of Sciences/Reuters and Depositphotos