The BBC's David Concar
"Andi is the world's first genetically modified primate"
Gerald Schatten describes how the modification was made
Monkeys at play
Andi fools around with his playmates
This small step will help scientists investigate innovative therapies
Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 16:32 GMT GM monkey first
Andi is fit and thriving, say researchers
The first genetically modified monkey has been born in the US.
Our goal isn't to make sick monkeys. Our goal is to eradicate diseases
Professor Gerald Schatten The scientists who produced the animal at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center say their experiments may suggest a way to speed new treatments for a host of disabling human conditions.
The rhesus monkey was made from an egg that had been modified to include a simple jellyfish gene. This is supposed to make a cell molecule glow under a special microscope. But the researchers say the same technology could be used to introduce more significant changes, such as those that would make primates mimic closely human diseases like breast cancer or HIV.
Such animals might make better models of disease than the altered mice and flies already used in labs. This could hasten understanding of disease processes and the development of new therapies.
"We could just as easily introduce, for example, an Alzheimer's gene, to accelerate the development of a vaccine for that disease," said co-researcher Professor Gerald Schatten.
Professor Gerald Schatten: GM monkeys would get "better answers" than mice or flies
"In this way, we hope to bridge the scientific gap between transgenic mice and humans. We could also get better answers from fewer animals, while accelerating the discovery of cures through molecular medicine."
The first GM monkey is called Andi, which is backwards for "inserted DNA".
Many organisms have been genetically engineered. Flocks of GM sheep produce human proteins for use in the drug industry and engineered bacteria and yeast routinely provide human proteins such as insulin.
But until now no-one had managed to put a new gene into a primate, the class of mammals that includes humans.
Last year, Professor Schatten's team produced Tetra, a female monkey clone created by splitting an embryo in half, as occurs naturally when twins are formed.How Andi was made Marker DNA carried into 224 monkey eggs by neutralised virus Eggs fertilised in test tube and implanted in surrogates Only 40 embryos and five pregnancies resulted Three monkeys were born alive Just one, Andi, displayed gene modification Both Andi and Tetra remain fit and healthy at the research centre, says Professor Schatten. But the news that science has developed the technology to turn monkeys into models of human disease has not received a hugely enthusiastic welcome - at least not in the UK.
The Medical Research Council, which funds most of the animal experimentation in Britain, said scientists were encouraged to use appropriate animals with the least sentience possible. It said it thought GM mice would remain the prime model for human disease in the country's labs.
Professor Patrick Bateson, chairman of the Royal Society working group on GM animals, said: "Although medical benefits may result from producing GM monkeys, this sort of work must be subject to stringent monitoring of any harmful effects on the animals' welfare.
"Although it is often necessary to use animals to understand human diseases, some of the work on cognitive diseases, such as schizophrenia, can only be carried out in people."
Some groups went further. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Buav), said the Oregon research would inevitably mean more death and suffering for primates. Wendy Higgins, the group's spokeswoman, said: "This is just the start.
"Now we're talking about small numbers of animals and gene markers, but what will happen in the future is that scientists will either add or knock out genes in primates to see what happens to them.
The research centre hopes to refine its technology
"The end result is terrible suffering. It's bad enough using rodents, but for scientists to play God with primate genes is morally abhorrent."
Professor Schatten counters such comment by saying modified primates would only be used in clearly defined circumstances.
He said the aim of the project was not to breed hundreds and hundreds of monkeys for medical research.
"We wouldn't want to make a monkey that carries a disease unless we knew there was a cure right in front of us. Our goal isn't to make sick monkeys. Our goal is to eradicate diseases," he said.
The Oregon research is published in the journal Science.Search BBC News Online
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