Scientists implant human genes in monkeys' brains
Scientists in China have placed human genes into the brains of monkeys - apparently making the primates more intelligent, according to a new study.
The animals performed better in a short-term memory test, and had quicker reaction times compared with normal monkeys, according to an article about the research published in the National Science Review, a Beijing-based journal. The research was led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology and was intended to examine the genetic basis of the human brain and the evolution of human cognition.
Researchers implanted MCPH1, a gene which they think may play an important part in human brain development, into the brains of 11 rhesus macaque monkeys. In doing this they created "transgenic monkeys". The scientists involved said it was the first time such an experiment had been used to understand "the genetic basis of human brain origin".
Researchers noted that as well as better short-term memory, the primates' brains also took longer to develop and had a similar development pattern to that of human brains.
The experiment has generated significant backlash from scientists in the West, who have criticised what they see as an unethical experiment.
"You just go to the Planet of the Apes immediately in the popular imagination," said Jacqueline Glover, a bioethicist at the University of Colorado. "To humanise them is to cause harm. Where would they live? And what would they do? Do not create a being that can't have a meaningful life, in any context."
In January 2019, scientists in China cloned a group of five gene-edited macaque monkeys, in an experiment designed to help researchers understand human diseases. At the time bioethicists criticised the approach, as some of the cloned monkeys and embryos survived for only a few days. Primate research is tightly controlled, meaning it is unlikely such techniques will be widely applied.
Another Chinese researcher - the disgraced Prof He Jiankui - faced global condemnation after he told the world he had created the first gene-edited babies in November 2018.