Cloned Rhesus Monkey Thrives: Achieving a Breakthrough in Primate Cloning

BEIJING, CHINA – Chinese scientists have successfully cloned a rhesus monkey named Retro, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Retro, who was born on July 16, 2020, is now over 3 years old and thriving. This achievement marks only the second time that scientists have been able to clone a primate species.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences used a modified version of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone Retro. SCNT involves fusing the nucleus of a somatic cell with an egg that has had its nucleus removed. However, the team faced challenges during the cloning process, as the embryos failed to develop the outer membrane that forms the placenta.

To overcome this issue, the scientists employed a technique called inner cell mass transplantation. By placing cloned inner cells into non-cloned embryos, they were able to facilitate normal development. The team tested this approach on 113 embryos, resulting in only one live birth out of the 11 embryos that were transferred to surrogates.

While the success rate of primate cloning remains low, the research team remains optimistic about the potential of this technology. They believe that being able to clone monkeys could significantly enhance biomedical research, especially since nonhuman primates are more similar to humans than other animals. The use of primates in scientific research has contributed to significant medical advancements, including the development of Covid-19 vaccines.

However, the ethical concerns surrounding animal welfare in scientific research cannot be ignored. Cloning animals involves procedures that can cause pain and distress, with high failure and mortality rates. The UK’s Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has expressed serious ethical and welfare concerns regarding cloning technology applied to animals.

Despite the potential benefits and challenges associated with cloning primates, the researchers emphasize that human cloning is both unnecessary and ethically unjustifiable. The low success rate in primate cloning experiments underscores the extraordinary difficulty of such endeavors and reinforces the ethical concerns associated with human cloning.

Cloning primates, like Retro, opens up new possibilities for disease modeling and genetic engineering. The development of more efficient techniques and further research in this field remains a priority for scientists. As the second primate species to be successfully cloned, Retro represents an important milestone in our understanding of reproductive cloning and its potential applications.