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China clones five monkeys ... and then makes them mentally ill

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The animals were born with an inoperative BMAL1 gene, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and was altered using the CRISPR "molecular scissors" editing technique (stock photo)

The animals were born with an inoperative BMAL1 gene, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and was altered using the CRISPR "molecular scissors" editing technique (stock photo)

The animals were born with an inoperative BMAL1 gene, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and was altered using the CRISPR "molecular scissors" editing technique (stock photo)

Chinese geneticists have been criticised after cloning five monkeys that were deliberately "edited" to be mentally ill.

Welfare concerns have been expressed after the genetically identical macaques showed signs of depression, reduced sleep and "schizophrenia-like behaviours".

The animals were born with an inoperative BMAL1 gene, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and was altered using the CRISPR "molecular scissors" editing technique.

Published in the 'National Science Review', the experiment by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience (CASIN) should enable teams to try out drugs for use on humans with neurological conditions, the authors said.

It follows the controversy last year caused when another Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, created the world's first genetically edited babies using a similar technique.

The development was roundly condemned by fellow scientists as well as the Chinese government.

Last year two different monkeys became the first primates to be cloned, a development that it was argued opened the door to future human cloning because the species shares 95pc of human genes.

Dr Julia Baines of the campaign group Peta UK said: "Genetically manipulating and then cloning animals is a monstrous practice that causes animals to suffer."

However, CASIN defended the practice of using cloned animals for medical research.

Poo Mu-ming, director of the institute of neuroscience and co-author of the study, added: "Without the interference of genetic background, a much smaller number of cloned monkeys carrying disease phenotypes may be sufficient for pre-clinical tests."

Irish Independent