Chinese scientists give monkeys of human brain genes in a "morally risky" experiment


Their brains may not be larger than normal, but monkeys created with human brain genes show cognitive changes that indicate that they may be smarter – and experiments are shaking.

After a genetically modified human baby scandal, Chinese scientists are launching a new condemnation of philosophers and ethics, this time announcing that they have created transgene monkeys with elements of the human brain.

A team led by scientists at the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences says that they have created 11 transgenic monkeys who carried human copies of a genus known as MCPH1, which they describe as an important gene for brain development and brain development.

Gen is involved in a process known as neoteny – a delay or slowing down of the development of the organism. Because the brain's brain develops after birth, MCPH1 is expressed abundantly, but less for non-human primates.

Brain brain developed on the same time line as the human brain.

Six of the monkeys died, but five survivors "showed better short-term memory and a shorter reaction time" compared to their wild controls, according to researchers in the magazine.

National review of science.

According to researchers, experiments are the first attempt to study the genetic basis of human brain origin using transgenic monkeys. The findings insist "they have the potential to provide important – and potentially unique – insights into the basic questions about what actually makes people unique."

For other work, he creates deep moral and visceral discomfort. Even one of the co-workers, a computer scientist from the University of North Carolina Martin Styner, said he had withdrawn his name from paper, which he said he could not find a publisher in the West.

"We have now created this animal, which is different than it should be," said Styner. "When we are doing the experiments, we need to understand well what we are trying to learn, help the society, and this is not the case."

Styner said in a message to the National Post that he has expertise in the medical analysis analysis and that he had already contacted the researchers in 2011. He said that he did not have any contribution to science in the project, in addition to how best to analyze their knowledge. MRI data. "At that time I did not think enough about ethical thinking."

Over time, it has become increasingly uncomfortable with the generation of transgenic monkeys, "or worse, transgenic monkeys," to explore the development of the brain.

"So, yes, it is morally dangerous to move towards the humanization of primates, especially when talking about the brain," said Styner.

Styner co-authors said traditional mice or rat models were "less ideal" than monkeys due to the large difference in the size and structure of the brain between humans and rodents.

When it comes to the scientific use of non-human primates, ethics say that the moral compass is in such cases delayed.

Depending on what beings are monkeys, you would surely have thought that a reasonable expectation would have great benefits for people to justify the damage that you will have for intensely social, cognitively complex, emotional animals such as monkeys. , "Said Letitia Meynell, associate professor at the philosophy department at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"It is not clear if such a study justifiably expects it to have any useful application for people," she said.

Science itself is also very dubious and fundamentally defective in its logic, she said.

"If you took Einstein as a child and you raised him in a laboratory, it would not have turned out to be Einstein," Meynell said. "If you are actually interested in studying the cognitive complexity of these animals, you will not get a good presentation of this with the rise in laboratories because they can not develop cognitive and social skills by the normal environment. "

The Chinese have said that the MCPH1 gene is one of the strongest candidates for the development of human brain. But looking at one gene is only a bad genetics, Meynell said. Most genes and their interactions affect the vast majority of properties.

The researchers expected that their transgenic monkeys would develop a larger brain, which is not true. Monkeys "did not show increased brain sizes," they reported – again underline that one gene has a limited effect on brain development.

One of the leading authors, Bing Su, told MIT that he is testing other genes involved in brain evolution, including one that he called a "human switch" for his role in human intelligence. According to Vox, Su told Nature magazine in 2016 that he also wanted to experiment with the FOXP2 gene, which expresses the protein needed for the proper development of speech and language. "I do not think the monkey will suddenly start to talk, but she will have some behavioral changes," said Su.

Monkeys have all the morally relevant properties we have, "that it would be wrong to do this randomly," gee, let's see what happens, "research on humans," Meynell said – research, of course, this is now done in China by the birth of genetically modified twins. Last November, He Jiankui announced that he edited the DNA of human embryos so that infants would be resistant to HIV.

In experiments with the monkey, researchers in the genome of rabies monkeys presented copies of human MCPH1 by injecting a gene-containing virus into the embryos of monkeys.

Timothy Caulfield of the University of Alberta has warned that the more humanizing of animals, the more exciting deep-seated moral issues, including remote but not impossible risky animals that could somehow develop human consciousness.

Two years ago, American researchers managed to create embryos of the human-pig chimera with the ultimate goal of day-to-day human organ transplantation in animals for transplantation.

National Post

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