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Glowing monkeys aid research

1st June 2009

Monkeys that glow in the dark could help doctors cure Parkinson's and related diseases.

monkey

The genetically modified marmosets, the product of a Japanese laboratory, were injected with a gene that makes jellyfish glow when placed under ultra-violet rays.

Marmosets were selected above other monkeys for their rapid reproduction abilities.

The fact that the gene makes the monkeys glow in the dark allowed scientists to determine whether or not it had been implanted successfully.

Scientists discovered that the implanted gene was passed on to other generations of monkeys.

The same method could be used to research human diseases like Parkinson's.

However, the method would have ethical and legal implications that have still not been dealt with.

Erika Sasaki, of the Central Institute for Experimental Animals in Kawasaki, Japan led the study.

Monkeys were preferred for the purposes of the study, rather than mice, due to the fact that genetic differences between mice and humans often render research conducted on mice irrelevant for practical purposes.

When Sasaki's team found that ordinary eggs successfully fertilised with sperm from monkeys carrying the jellyfish gene passed the ability to glow in the dark onto offspring, they knew they had made the first such successful introduction of a gene.

However, although, marmosets proved to be a much better subject for research than did mice, they are what as known as “new world primates,” which are less closely related to humans than rhesus macaques and baboons.

If similar methods are to be applied in the study of diseases like HIV/AIDS, it would not be possible to use marmosets.

Bioethical concerns for such transgenic research, if it were conducted on humans, are highly complicated, since it would be impossible to obtain the consent of the offspring beforehand.

In addition, the problem of cross-contamination with natural colonies of primates is also a concern.

Researchers have not yet established whether animals other than mice or primates could serve as research subjects.

However, at present, there is a limited amount of DNA that can be inserted into a marmoset.

It would not be possible to model diseases or conditions that involve several genes working in tandem using the same technology Sasaki's team employed.

 

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