I remember watching The Island and being mesmerized and horrified by the idea that humans may one day be able to clone themselves. Whilst fantasy, the eerie movie, which focuses on the idea that humans could one day duplicate themselves as some sort of twisted health insurance policy, was convincingly real.
The idea that you could create a copy of yourself for the purposes of organ harvesting and surrogate motherhood haunted me for weeks. It was a nightmare that would only intensify with time as I learned more about Dolly the Sheep – the first mammal to be cloned back in 1996 – and saw surrogacy become extremely popular.
While these scientific breakthroughs chilled me to the core, nothing could quite prepare me, or the world, for the birth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. The two monkeys were cloned in a laboratory in China where it is hoped they can help scientists study diseases with a genetic basis, such as some cancers and immune disorders.
“There are a lot of questions about primate biology that can be studied by having this additional model,” Qiang Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience said of the successful experiment.
Currently, the two long-tailed macaques, who were born within two weeks of each other, are developing normally. It took 79 attempts to clone the monkeys before Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born, with two other monkeys cloned from a different type of cell failing to survive.
“We tried several different methods, but only one worked. There was much failure before we found a way to successfully clone a monkey,” said Dr. Sun. This winning formula is now being used to create more clones.
Whilst cloning animals is nothing new – after Dolly was successfully cloned in an Edinburgh lab in 1996, horses, dogs, cats, mice and rats were also experimented with – Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the first non-human primates to be cloned. For this reason, the tiny primates birth has been met with much controversy rather than celebration.
“We are very aware that future research using non-human primates anywhere in the world depends on scientists following very strict ethical standards,” said co-researcher Dr. Muming Poo.
Meanwhile, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London called the technique “very inefficient and hazardous,” before going on to reassuringly say that the procedure “is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live-born human clones.”
Professor Darren Griffin of the University of Kent came forward to state how the experiment may be useful when it comes to understanding human diseases, but he had ethical concerns.
“Careful consideration now needs to be given to the ethical framework under which such experiments can, and should, operate,” he said.
The fact that leading experts in the field are alarmed by the birth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua tells you everything you need to know. And then there’s the whole moral and ethical standpoint of humans playing “God” – perhaps this is just something we should steer clear from in science?
Has this experiment just changed our entire futures? Is human cloning just around the corner? Maybe The Island isn’t a fantasy after all, but future reality.
It could only be a matter of time before all the movies depicting humans being created come true!