HONG KONG, China (AFP) – Chinese scientists have implanted human brain genes in monkeys as part of a study to provide information on the unique evolution of human intelligence .
The researchers inserted human versions of MCPH1, a gene that scientists say plays a role in the development of the human brain in 11 rhesus monkeys.
They found that monkey brain development – like that of humans – was longer and that animals performed better in short-term memory tests and reaction times compared to wild monkeys. .
However, the monkeys did not develop a larger brain than the control group.
This test, the latest in a series of biomedical experiments in China that has fueled debates on medical ethics, has already brought out ethical concerns and comparisons with dystopian science fiction "Planet of the Apes ".
It was conducted by researchers from the Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with US researchers from the University of North Carolina.
The study was published last month in the National Science Review, based in Beijing.
"Our results demonstrated that non-human transgenic primates (excluding species of monkeys) have the potential to provide important and potentially unique information on fundamental issues of what actually makes humans unique" , wrote the authors.
The monkeys underwent memory tests requiring them to memorize colors and shapes on a screen and were subjected to MRI scans.
Only five of the monkeys survived the test phase.
The authors stated that rhesus monkeys, although genetically closer to humans than rodents, were still far enough apart to mitigate ethical concerns.
However, some have questioned the ethics of the experiment.
"You immediately go to the" Planet of the Apes "in the popular imagination," said Jacqueline Glover, bioethicist at the University of Colorado.
"To humanise them is to cause harm, where would they live and what would they do, do not create a being who can not have a meaningful life in any context," she told MIT Technology. Review.
Larry Baum, a researcher at the Center for Genomic Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, has downplayed comparisons in science fiction.
"The genome of rhesus monkeys differs from a few percent of ours – it's about millions of different individual bases of DNA between humans and monkeys," he said.
"This study altered some of these in just about 20,000 genes.
"You can decide for yourself if there is something to fear."
Baum added that the study supported the theory that "a slower maturity of brain cells could be a factor in improving intelligence during human evolution."
In January, Chinese scientists unveiled five macaques cloned from a single animal genetically engineered to cause a sleep disorder, all with signs of mental problems such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia-related behaviors.
They said the study was intended to facilitate research on human psychological issues.
And last year, Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the scientific community after revealing that he had managed to ensure that twins born in November were genetically modified to prevent them from contracting HIV.
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