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birth of a chimeric monkey is a technical feat, but pushes ethical boundaries
First live birth of a chimeric monkey is a technical feat, but pushes ethical boundaries
By Helen Floersh
Nov 10, 2023 7:05am        The images are unsettling, to put it mildly: a baby monkey whose skin grows eerily green, with glowing fingertips reminiscent of E.T.

This is “#10,” the world’s first live-born monkey that’s largely made up of embryonic stem cells, or ESCs, from a different embryo—in other words, a chimera. It’s the work of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who reported its creation Nov. 9 in Cell. While it’s not the first time scientists have facilitated the live birth of chimeric animals, it is the first time they’ve done so in a monkey. The development is both a major advancement for stem cell research and an ethics conundrum.

“Making chimeric monkeys could facilitate new kinds of genetic and developmental biology studies with more direct relevance to humans,” Paul Knoepfler, Ph.D., a stem cell biologist and cancer researcher at the University of California, Davis who was not involved in the study, told Fierce Biotech Research in an email interview. But, he added later, “there are some difficult questions and ethical considerations arising from this new paper.”
A chimeric monkey, with green skin and fingers from ESCs tagged with GFP
Images showing the green fluorescence signals in different body parts of the world's first live-birth chimeric monkey, dubbed #10 in the paper, at three days old (Cell/Cao et al.)

The monkey at the heart of the study was the survivor of a long process that began with the scientists removing ESCs from seven-day-old monkey blastocysts and growing them into nine different stem cell lines, using techniques from human pluripotent stem cell studies to do so. The ESCs were placed in a special culture medium to enhance their ability to differentiate into the cell types necessary to grow into a live animal and were labeled with a green fluorescent protein, or GFP, that would allow the scientists to see which tissues had grown from them.

After growing the stem cells, they selected a subset of them and injected them into 206 morulae, four- to five-day old embryos about the size of a mulberry. Of these, 74 of them were ultimately implanted into 40 different surrogate mothers. This led to 12 pregnancies, which ended in four aborted fetuses and six live births.

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