Lab monkey

Genetically modified organisms have come to be synonymous with corn and soy (and the brands behind the recent proliferation of GMOs such as Monsanto). But the practice of altering DNA and cellular structures doesn’t stop at plant seeds; researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre at Oregon Health and Science University have successfully genetically modified monkeys.

The research, titled “Generation of Chimeric Rhesus Monkeys” appears in the January 20th issue of the journal Cell. The development of the modified monkey is intended to assist in moving research on stem cell therapies forward up the evolutionary chain, according to scientists working on the project, which could assist in finding treatments for a number of ailments, including HIV/AIDS, despite the growing evidence that animal testing is an ineffective practice in understanding or treating human diseases.

The chimeras—lab animals created through the combination of several fertilized eggs—are made with certain absent genes in order to study the progression and treatment possibilities of specific ailments. The most common chimeras have been rodents, such as mice and rats, until the three rhesus monkeys born of the Oregon Health and Science University experiment. (They’ve been named Roku, Hex and Chimero.)

Limited information is available on the long-term effects of genetically modified organisms—be it in foods such as corn and soy or in living animals. AquaBounty is on the verge of becoming the first company to produce an animal intended for human consumption pending government approval of its genetically modified AquAdvantage salmon. While the rhesus monkeys are not likely to end up in the food chain—or in the wild—anytime soon, the achievement further invites the possibility of more genetically modified animals of all scale, which could have detrimental effects on ecosystems and the food chain.

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Image: eschipul