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First Genetically Altered Primate

It's not just monkey business anymore. The first genetically altered monkey could help researchers find treatments for a whole range of human diseases. Dr. Emily Senay explains.

For the first time ever, researchers at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center have been able to add extra DNA to a rhesus monkey, which gives the monkey an added trait when it grows up. The hope is to be able to use the technique to create monkeys with human-like diseases for use in medical research.

This little monkey is Andi, the first genetically modified primate. He is the brainchild of Dr. Gerald Schatten of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center.

It starts under a microscope. Scientists inject DNA from a jellyfish into the unfertilized egg of a rhesus monkey. It's the same DNA that makes a jellyfish glow in the dark. When the monkey is born, its cells glow green in the dark under a microscope, proof that the new DNA is working.

It's a process that has already given us goats and cows that make medicine in their milk, and mice with human-like diseases that we use for medical research. The hope is that rhesus monkeys can now be engineered with human diseases to provide a better model than mice.

It's not easy to create a monkey using these techniques. More than two hundred eggs were genetically modified. Fertilization resulted in 40 genetically modified embryos and five pregnancies were successful, resulting in three live births, but only one live monkey with new DNA.

But is this a realistic way to genetically engineer the number of monkeys needed for research? Probably not by itself. But once you get a useful gene successfully transferred using these methods, the idea would be to use the latest in cloning techniques to make as many copies as you need of that particular animal.

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