The Model Animal Research Center of Nanjing University in China has bred two monkeys with customized mutations, with one having its healthy immune system altered, while the other has its regulation of metabolism tweaked.
In China, the “Model Animal Research Center of Nanjing University” led by geneticist Xingxu Huang, has successfully engineered twin cynomolgus monkeys with two targeted mutations using the “CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system. One of the mutations affect the regulation of metabolism (Ppar-γ), while the other affects the healthy immune function(Rag1).
Previous attempts to genetically modify primates relied on viral methods and while it created mutations efficiently, it did so at unpredictable locations and in uncontrollable numbers. For the new system, the breakthrough did not come easy. Huang and his team first tested it in a monkey cell line, with the scientists targeting each of the three genes with a 10-25% success rate. Encouraged by the results, the research team then subsequently targeted the three genes simultaneously in more than 180 single-celled monkey embryos. This resulted in 10 pregnancies from 83 embryos that were implanted, with only one birth that led to the pair of mutations in the two targeted genes.
Synthetic biologist, Feng Zhang, who was not involved with the study but did help develop the gene-editing system CRISPR tech at MIT, thinks “this is an important first step,” and adds, “it shows the system is working.” While the combined mutations do not represent specific disease syndromes, it is associated with human disorders. For now, the team has yet to fully analyze the monkeys’ condition and more tests are needed to know whether the mutations occurred in all of the animals’ cells. “Our first aim was to get it done, to get it to work,” claims Huang, though the studies suggest that researchers could one day model other human conditions involving multiple mutations.
If the experiments prove successful in the long run, are we in for a future where specific health disorders can be modified genetically? Or maybe even alter the genetic makeup of babies to take out any hereditary genes that might cause problems once they grow up? It’s certainly an interesting prospect — though a little bit creepy, I admit.