A controversial Chinese experiment on monkeys raised eyebrows in the science community and was slammed as unethical.
Rabat – A scientific experiment at a Chinese University put human genes into the brains of 11 monkeys, which showed human like brain development.
In the experiment, the Chinese scientists implanted human genes into the brains of rhesus monkey as part of a series of studies on the evolution of human intelligence.
After implanting 11 monkeys with different versions of MCPH1, a gene considered key to the development of the human brain, the scientists concluded that, like humans, the brain of the tested monkeys took longer to develop and performed better in short-term memory and reaction time tests compared to wild monkeys.
The size of the monkey’s brains, however, did not grow bigger.
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.”
The chinese scientists, affiliated to the institute of the Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, worked in collaboration with US researchers at the University of North Carolina. .
Outrage in the scientific community
The study, which was published on March 27 in the beijing-based peer-reviewed journal National Science Review, has raised concerns over medical ethics.
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.”
Only five monkeys made it to the last stages of the experiment.
Jacqueline Glover, a bioethicist at the University of Colorado, invoking the sci-fi movie “Planet of the Apes,” said humanizing animals is causing them harm and creating “a being that can not have a meaningful life in any context.”
In another experiment in January, a group Chinese scientists also cloned 5 macques, monkeys that split from the evolutionary path of humans about 29 million years ago. They were replicated from one single animal, which was genetically engineered to have sleep disorders.
This experiment did not turn out well as the animals suffered mental problems including depression, anxiety, and behaviors linked to schizophrenia.