China is leading the world in terms of research on genetic modification and cloning monkeys, aiming to improve scientific understanding of human evolution and disease. In 2023, Chinese researchers published studies on monkeys whose genomes had been modified by adding human brain genes; these monkeys demonstrated better memory abilities compared to unmodified monkeys. The research could help explain millions of years of human evolution and the separation of humans from other primates. The experiments have raised some ethical concerns in the West.
In recent years, China has invested heavily in primate research at both the national and local levels, to the tune of 600 million euros. The country aims to establish monkey models of human diseases. The number of genetically modified monkeys remains small, however, as creating transgenic animals is a costly procedure. According to Pierre Savatier, a researcher at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, such a procedure costs around 1 million euros per animal. Although cloning can save some time, it is still a very expensive procedure with low success rates.
Some Western experts argue that, despite China’s demonstrated technological advances in genetic modification and cloning of primates, the scientific results of such experiments have been limited. Roger Le Grand, who leads the principal non-human primate lab at the French Atomic Energy Commission, noted that initial stages of transgenic mouse research were quote laborious before the associated techniques eventually became routine. Pierre Savatier commented that establishing stable lineages of genetically modified monkeys would take at least a decade.
Realizing pharmaceutical profits resulting from primate models would likely take 20-30 years. Currently, China is the only country devoting infrastructure and resources to support such long-term research. Public opinion in the U.S. and Europe generally opposes animal testing; China’s bets in this area, made “at the highest political levels,” are not being matched in Western countries.
Source: Radio France International, January 24, 2024