Biomedical EVIL: Chinese scientists clone genetically modified baby monkeys to see how mental illness works

We’ve come to expect questionable behavior by the Chinese government, so it’s not surprising to learn that they had a hand in a recent project that saw monkeys being cloned and gene edited to show symptoms of mental illnesses. In the concerning experiment, Chinese scientists used CRISPR/Cas 9 technology to remove the BMAL1 gene from healthy embryos. All of the five macaques used in the project were born with identical genes including the mutation.

The absence of the gene impacts the operation of their biological clocks and induces a range of diseases including schizophrenia, depression, hormonal disorders, sleep disorders, and nighttime hyperactivity. In an upsetting video that was released with the research, the five monkeys can be seen displaying some of these behaviors.

The monkey that was cloned was chosen because it exhibited the most severe symptoms of mental illness. In other words, they intentionally created monkeys with mental illnesses. The scientist in charge of the study, Sun Qiang, said: “Our approach is to … select one monkey that exhibits the correct gene-editing and most severe disease phenotypes as the donor monkey for cloning.”

The team injected the nucleus of a genetically-altered adult male monkey into an egg and then planted the embryo into a surrogate mother’s womb after it had been fertilized. They created a total of 300 embryos, but just five fully developed, illustrating how inefficient the procedure is.

The Chinese government provided the funding for the trial, which was carried out at the Institute of Neuroscience. The country is the only one to possess the technology needed to clone captivity-bred primates. Researchers have struggled for decades to carry out such projects successfully due to the ease with which proteins become damaged during cloning, impacting the ability of chromosomes to divide and leading to fetal death. In 2018, Chinese scientists made a breakthrough in this regard but have not been willing to disclose how they overcame the problem. The first monkeys were born there early last year using the same technique used to create Dolly the Sheep.

Project will lead to more harm than good

The current project’s aim is to develop treatments for mental health problems. When new drugs are developed, it can be difficult to get a decent number of animals that are similar enough to make comparisons and measure performance and side effects, and the researchers believe that cloned monkeys will enable them to precisely measure the effects of administering different doses of drugs being studied. They also claim this will dramatically reduce the number of animals that need to be used as research subjects.

While many scientists, doctors and patients alike would agree that there is a need for more insight into mental illnesses, this study has prompted a flood of ethical concerns. After all, if the mental processes of monkeys are similar enough to those of humans that studying them could potentially be useful, it stands to reason that experimenting on them would be just as unethical as it is to experiment on humans. These animals are suffering needlessly, and deliberately harming them seems unlikely to bring about any substantial benefit.

Moreover, for this experiment alone, 65 surrogate mothers were subjected to embryo implantation, and this led to just 16 pregnancies and only five births.

University of Winchester Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics Andrew Knight called the study “disturbing” and “very irresponsible.”

The researchers used the same approach as controversial Chinese scientist He Jiankui employed for his outrageous human baby gene editing experiments. Last year, he announced that he had created two baby girls via genetic editing, drawing criticism from around the world. A woman who participated in his experiment is reportedly pregnant with another gene-edited fetus. He is facing punishment for his actions.

Now that the technical barrier of cloning primates, including humans, has been broken, there’s no telling what comes next – but it’s hard to imagine it ending well. Read for more coverage of violence carried out against humans and animals in the name of medical “research.”

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