Human Brain Genes to Make Monkeys Smarter

Scientists make smarter monkeys with human genes

"The genome of rhesus monkeys differs from ours by a few percent". The world's first animals cloned using somatic cells have an edited human version of MCPH1 genes in their brains which has given rise to a more human like timeline; they have been found to have better reaction times and enhanced short term memories compared to unaltered peers.

The chinese scientists, affiliated to the institute of the Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, worked in collaboration with USA researchers at the University of North Carolina.

Only five monkeys made it to the last stages of the experiment.

The remaining five, which the scientists confirmed have multiple copies of the human gene, were tasked with completing memory tests and were subjected to MRI scans. The monkeys "did not manifest an enlarged brain size", they reported - again underscoring that a single gene has limited effect on brain development. According to The Verge, some of the symptoms included anxiety, repetitive movements, and decreased social interaction.

They said the study was meant to aid research into human psychological problems. Critics believe that transgenic experiments on monkeys and apes puts us on a slippery slope where it becomes hard to draw the line of what is acceptable and what is not.

Styner's co-authors, however, said the traditional mouse or rat models were "less ideal" than monkeys because of the vast dissimilarities in brain size and structure between humans and rodents.

Another gene that may be soon be added inside the monkeys of genomes in subsequent experiments is FOXP2, which is widely believed to be integral to our language abilities.

Martin Styner of the University of North Carolina who's role in this experiment was limited to training students how to extract brain volume from MRI images says "There are a bunch of aspects of this study that you could not do in the United States, it raised issues about the type of research and whether the animals were properly cared for." .

Debates stem from scientists arguing pinpointing the MCPH1 gene's role in intelligence could help gain better understandings of how humans evolved to be so smart.

James Sikela, a geneticist and professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado, Denver, said that experimenting on transgenic monkeys to understand human evolution is a "classic slippery slope ... and a very risky road to take".

The authors of the study explained, "Our findings demonstrated that transgenic nonhuman primates (excluding ape species) have the potential to provide important - and potentially unique - insights into basic questions of what actually makes humans unique". Even one of the collaborators - University of North Carolina computer scientist Martin Styner - told MIT Technology Review he considered removing his name from the paper, which he said was unable to find a publisher in the West. "Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can't have a meaningful life in any context", Glover said.

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