Chimera Monkey Born – A chimera, which is a collection of genetically distinct cells from more than one organism, were used to create a monkey and the first one was born last week. Prepare yourself, because most people might not like this idea of playing with embryos and genes, but researchers call it a breakthrough.
A US team, which has reported its work in the journal Cell, says the advance could have “enormous” importance for medical research. If anything, this is a big step forward for stem cell study, which can benefit people in the future.
It’s the first time scientists have produced a monkey composed of cells taken from separate embryos. The animals were born after researchers combined cells from different embryos and implanted them into female monkeys.
Chimeras are important for studying embryonic development, but research has largely been restricted to mice.
The three rhesus monkeys, named Chimero, Roku and Hex, are said to be normal and healthy. They have tissues made up of a mixture of cells representing as many as six distinct embryos.
“The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs,” said co-author Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, US.
Initial efforts by Dr Mitalipov’s team to produce living monkey chimeras by introducing cultured embryonic stem cells into monkey embryos – a well-established means for generating chimeric mice – failed.
Stem cells are the “master cells” that can transform into a variety of more specialised cells required in the body.
The embryonic stem cells the team tried and failed with were at a developmental stage known as “pluripotency”. This means they can transform into any tissue type in the body, but cannot turn into the placenta or an entire animal.
The researchers were only able to make monkey chimeras when they mixed cells from very early stage embryos, in which each individual embryonic cell was “totipotent.”