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Scientists in the US have created a genetically modified monkey

By Tamara Traubman and the news agencies
Photo: Reuters

The engineered monkey, "Andy". No signs were found that the transplanted gene was active

American scientists will report today that they succeeded in inserting a new gene into an unfertilized monkey egg, fertilizing the egg, and creating a baby monkey carrying the new gene in its body cells. As far as is known, the researchers say, this is the first time they have succeeded in creating an animal from the human family, the primates, using genetic engineering methods.

The head of the team of researchers, Dr. Gerald Shatten from the University of Health Sciences in Organ, said that his ultimate goal is to plant genes in rhesus monkeys that will cause a variety of human diseases - such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer or AIDS - in order to better understand the development of diseases and develop healing methods news.

The method of transplanting the gene has been used for many years in mice, but the extent to which conclusions can be drawn from the results of experiments in mice for humans is limited. Because monkeys are genetically closer to humans, they may be able to give researchers a better picture of how diseases develop in humans, Shatten said. "I think this is an extraordinary moment in human history," he added.

Other parties condemned the study. Dr. Ray Griek, spokesman for the "Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine", said: "I think they will receive a lot of media coverage, which will eventually lead to a lot of money being poured into the University of Oregon. But in twenty years," Griek added, "will your children be safer from diseases as a result of the research? The chances of that are almost zero."

Shatten believes that the use of transgenic monkeys will actually limit the number of monkeys needed to conduct experiments, because it will be possible to genetically design laboratory animals. This will eliminate the need to establish a large pool of laboratory animals in the hope that one of the animals will have the necessary characteristics to conduct the experiment.

Shatten and his colleagues, whose research is published today in the journal "Science", made genetic changes in more than 200 eggs of rhesus monkeys, and fertilized them. 40 embryos were created, but a total of five pregnancies were completed and the mothers gave birth to three live pups. Of the three, only Andy's cells were found to have the new genes.

The gene implanted in the egg from which Andy developed is responsible for creating the green glowing protein. The researchers implanted it because it can be used as a marker that reveals whether the gene has been taken up by the cell and no less importantly - whether it is active. The researchers examined tissues and found that the gene was indeed present in Andy's body cells, but found no signs that the gene was active.

"Andy is a transgenic animal," said Prof. Brigid Hogan from Vanderbilt University, "but until you can show high levels of protein expression, it's not something to make an issue of and inflate the benefits of." To produce monkeys with human diseases, it is not enough to insert the gene into the cells, the gene has to be active."
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 12/1/2001}

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