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Monkey Business

By Sean Henahan, Access Excellence

Beaverton, Ore (3/4/97) Taking one step closer towards the potential for cloning humans, a group of Oregon researchers now claim to have cloned  two Rhesus monkeys. This reality has set off alarm bells in Washington, D.C., as legislators try to come to terms with the implications of the cloning research.

Taking one step back from the adult-cell cloning method used by Scottish researchers to clone a sheep, scientists at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center cloned the monkeys from early stage embryos using the nuclear transfer method. A set of chromosomes were removed from each of the eight cells in a primitive monkey embryo and then inserting into egg cells from which the original DNA had been removed. These embryos were then implanted in the wombs of host mothers using in vitro fertilization techniques.

The two monkey clones, one male and one female, are now six months old and appear normal in every respect. They are being raised by their "mothers" and are expected to live as long as 20 years.

The breakthrough could prove a major boon for researchers by allowing the creation of genetically identical animals, said Donald Wolf, a senior scientist at the center. Having test groups of cloned animals would remove some of the uncertainties in research that might have been attributed to genetic differences among animals. This will provide researchers with higher confidence levels in conclusions drawn from animal studies, and could allow the design of trials using far fewer animals.

"What we want to do is establish an immortal cell line, something like an embryonic stem cell line, where you can produce literally unlimited numbers of these things,'' Wolf said.

The monkey cloning advance could prove useful in the design of studies involving cancer treatments and AIDS drugs. In addition, the technology used in the research might also be used to help infertile women, who might be able to have their DNA inserted in a donor embryo.

Wolf and associates are now planning to continue their research and develop a line of monkey clones. However, they emphasize, they do not plan to clone monkeys from adult cells, and are opposed to the idea of cloning humans.

One unusual aspect of the monkey cloning research is in the way it was announced. Typically, such important research would be announced in a leading peer-reviewed journal. For example, the sheep cloning announcement coincided with the publication of the research in the journal Nature. The monkey cloning study, in contrast, was announced at a press conference, and has not been published yet.


The announcement of the cloning of Dolly the sheep, followed closely by the monkey cloning, along with the chicken/quail brain cell transplant experiment has raised public disquiet about such research. The greatest concerns have centered on the potential for cloning humans.

President Bill Clinton called the developments "troubling" and immediately prohibited any federal funding for experiments that might lead to the cloning of human beings. Clinton also requested that privately funded researchers also refrain from such studies. Clinton has asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to study the issue and report back in May.

"Any discovery that touches upon human creation is not simply a matter of scientific inquiry. It is matter of morality and spirituality as well," the president told the press.

Meanwhile, the US Senate has organized hearings to consider the implications of cloning research. Invited speakers include Harold Varmus, the director of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Ian Wilmut, director of the sheep cloning research. There was even some possibility of bringing Dolly the sheep clone to Washington, but the idea was abandoned.


Most Americans are wary of use of cloning, according to a CNN/Time poll of 1005 adults. Nearly half of those polled said cloning animals or humans was immoral and unacceptable. Half of the respondents also said they would not be willing to eat fruits, vegetables or animals resulting from cloning.

The poll also revealed strong opposition to cloning research, with 66% of those surveyed saying federal government should regulate the cloning of animals. A full 69% of respondents voiced fear regarding the prospect of cloning humans, with 89% saying this would be morally unacceptable. A contrarian 7% said they would consider cloning themselves.

Related information on the Internet
Oregon Regional Primate Research Center
AE: Sheep Cloning Article
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
National Bioethics Advisory Committee
Previous Wilmut Nature Article on Nuclear Cloning
Roslin Institute
AE Activity: Cracking the Code, Cloning Paper Plasmid

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