Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys

A quest to understand how human intelligence evolved raises some ethical questions.

Chinese scientists along with scientists at the US have conducted an experiment, in which they created transgenic monkeys carrying a human gene that is important for brain development. What’s interesting, the monkeys showed human-like brain development.

Scientists focused on a gene called MCPH1 which, when damaged, produces babies with smaller brains than is typical. Mutations in MCPH1 can lead to microcephaly, a developmental disorder characterized by a small brain.

Adding the human version of MCPH1 to monkey embryos resulted in 11 specimens, but six of them died before any tests could be performed. Those five were tested to see what impact the human gene had on their development and abilities. In addition, none of the monkeys had larger than normal brains, but all of them tested better than average on memory tests and in processing abilities.

Although, the study is quite controversial- it would not have been allowed in most other countries. There’s a consensus in the bioscience network that adding human genes related to brain development to monkey genomes crosses an ethical line. Some believe that it could prompt monkeys like those found in the movie Planet of the Apes.

What sort of status would such monkeys have if they were altered in ways that allowed them to think like a human being? For this reason, most are not willing to take part in such research—indeed, even one of the researchers on the team in China, an American from North Carolina University, had second thoughts.

He suggested that creating monkeys that have some aspects of human brain power “is not a good direction.” He claims he only assisted with MRI analysis for brain volume testing.

The paper published in the National Science Review.

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