The Chinese have inserted human genes into the brains of monkeys in an attempt to create ‘transgenic monkeys’ with brains which mirror in certain ways human brains. Is this a slippery slope to more extreme experiments? Is this ethical?
The brains of 11 rhesus monkeys were modified to carry the MCPH1 gene. This gene is an important part of DNA for brain development and size.
The idea behind the experiment is to gather insights into the origin and evolution of human cognition.
Tests found that the “modified monkeys” had better reaction times. Their brains took longer to develop which mirrors that of the development of human babies.
The study was published in National Science Review. This is a Chinese academic journal. There were mixed reactions in the West. Some experts think that this is a very risky business because it is a slippery slope towards more extreme experiments which could be detrimental to the human race in the long term.
One expert said that simply fiddling with one gene cannot create super intelligent monkeys. The issue is far more complex than that. However, an ethicist at the University of Oxford, Julian Savulescu, said that this sort of research is better than a lot of other research such as experimenting with animals on diseases such as cancer. He said that they give the monkeys a better memory not a disease.
He believes that the Pandora’s box that the experiment might open was in fact opened decay to go.
These experiments were facilitated by China’s relatively relaxed rules on using primates in research projects. The lead researcher Dr Su Bing said that all they had done was to give the monkeys a minor genetic tweak.
P.S. Transgenic: an organism that contains genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced (Google).