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The BBC's David Concar
"Andi is the world's first genetically modified primate"
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GM technology
Gerald Schatten describes how the modification was made
 real 56k

Monkeys at play
Andi fools around with his playmates
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Gerald Schatten
This small step will help scientists investigate innovative therapies
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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 12:56 GMT
GM monkey enrages critics
Andi is fit and thriving, say researchers
The creation by US scientists of a genetically modified monkey has aroused heated debate about the ethics and usefulness of the project.

While GM mice, fruit flies, rabbits, sheep, pigs and other animals are commonplace in medical research, Andi the monkey is the closest human relative to be genetically engineered.

Scientists say research using primates such as monkeys is particularly useful precisely because they are so similar to humans.

But that close relationship also raises serious concerns about the ethics of using them in genetic engineering projects.

'Turning back the clock'

Sue Mayer, of Genewatch UK, said there had been a trend away from doing research on primates, and any increase in such experiments would be to "turn back the clock".

Primates at play
Primate interactions are much like those of people
"There is something different about primates", she said.

"Primates are our closest relatives, and using them in research raises huge moral and ethical questions."

She said she doubted that engineering monkeys with, for example, diabetes or cancer, would be as useful in finding cures as advocates claim, and described such claims as "hype".

"Many of these conditions are poorly understood. They're not purely genetic," she said.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which campaigns against the use of any animals in research, said the announcement of Andi's creation marked "a very bad day for primates".

"The inevitable domino effect of this type of research will be an increase in the number of primates used," said Wendy Higgins, a spokeswoman for the group.

She said that, while the world may be charmed by images of Andi playing with his two siblings, "these animals have been bred to die".

"He's not going to be kept as a pet; he's there to be used for experiments," she said.

Claims not proven

Dr Brigid Hogan, a professor of cell biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was sceptical about the claims made by Andi's creators.

Merely inserting a gene does not mean it will work
"It's got the DNA in there, so it's a transgenic animal", she told The New York Times.

"But unless you can show a high level of expression of the protein, it's not something you should be making a big fuss about and making extravagant claims about.

"I would be feeling very tentative about whether he had achieved the goals he had set out," she said of Gerald Schatten, one of the lead researchers on the project.

Designer babies?

Some experts worried about the implications for humans.

"Once you start attempting genetic engineering in monkeys, humans can't be far behind," Professor Lori B Andrews, an expert in new reproductive technologies at Chicago-Kent College of Law, told The New York Times.

And Dave King, a campaigner against human genetic engineering, told the UK's Guardian: "This is yet another step on the slippery slope to designer babies... It is science out of control and at its most irresponsible.

"People should wake up to the fact that genetic engineering of people could be just around the corner."

David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, told the Washington Post that, while the technology might still be years away, human application could not be ruled out.

"I don't see this in its present state as being anything we'd ever want to do with human beings, although it's another step in that direction," he said.

Long tradition

Simon Fishel, head of the IVF clinic at the Park Hospital, in Nottingham, told the UK's Guardian newspaper that Andi was part of a long tradition of medical research.

"We've been striving for hundreds of thousands of years to eliminate human diseases," he said.

"If we get to the stage in human development where the only way to do that is to attack the errors in our blueprint, then we have to try to attack those errors."

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
GM monkeys will 'not replace mice'
11 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Modified monkey poses questions
14 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Scientists 'clone' monkey
01 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Mice mutants probe human genome
11 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
GM monkey first
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