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[Nettime-bold] ANDi, first GM primate. Will humans be next?
John Armitage on 12 Jan 2001 12:56:56 -0000


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[Nettime-bold] ANDi, first GM primate. Will humans be next?


ANDi, first GM primate. Will humans be next?
Scientists plant alien gene in monkey for first time

Special report on the ethics of genetics
<http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/genes>
James Meek, science correspondent
Friday January 12, 2001
The Guardian
The prospect of genetically modified human beings moved a step closer
yesterday with the announcement that scientists had for the first time
implanted an alien gene in a monkey, a species closely related to man.
ANDi - "inserted DNA" backwards - a rhesus monkey, carries a gene which
makes jellyfish glow green in almost every one of his trillions of natural
cells. If he has offspring, they will also carry the gene.
The US researchers who enabled ANDi's birth are not seeking to make GM
people. They are trying to create transgenic monkeys which perfectly mimic
human diseases, so that ways can be found to cure them.
But rhesus monkeys and humans are so similar - they belong to the same
order, the primates - that gene modification success in one is convincing
evidence it would work in the other.
"We're not interested in using this technique in humans," said Anthony Chan,
of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Centre, where ANDi was born on
October 2. "We don't find any reason to do so. But I think there will be a
lot of discussion."
Even setting aside the distant prospect of GM people, alarm was already
being voiced yesterday about a future increase in experiments on transgenic
monkeys.
In ANDi, the jellyfish gene was used as a trial run. "We could just as
easily introduce, for example, an Alzheimer's gene, to accelerate the
development of a vaccine for that disease," said Dr Chan's colleague Gerald
Schatten. "We're at an extraordinary moment in the history of humans."
The easy availability of transgenic mice, modified to mimic human conditions
like Alzheimer's disease and obesity, has already led to an increase in the
number of animal experiments in Britain.
"Experimentation on primates is particularly problematic because they are
closer to us, because we know they are much more likely to suffer in similar
ways to us," said Sue Mayer, of GeneWatch UK. "We should think extremely
deeply before turning the clock back and increasing the number of
experiments we sanction on primates."
Last year the Oregon centre successfully cloned a monkey for the first time.

The birth of ANDi, reported in today's edition of the journal Science,
leaves researchers a long way from their goal: to take a primate egg,
suppress or remove an inherited gene and insert another gene in exactly the
right place.
To create ANDi - who will probably now be patented - the Oregon team took
224 monkey eggs and used a modified virus to carry the jellyfish gene inside
each one. The gene was then written into one of the monkey's chromosomes.
A few hours later, the eggs were fertilised with monkey sperm. A little over
half developed into full-fledged embryos, and scientists implanted 40 of
these in 20 surrogate monkey mothers.
Only three monkey foetuses survived to be born, and the jellyfish gene was
detected in only one, christened ANDi. Even in ANDi, the gene does not seem
to be producing the chemical it should, since the monkey's hair roots and
toenails do not glow under fluorescent light.
Two monkeys which were stillborn did glow, however.
"Efforts to make a fluorescent green monkey are not quite a glowing success
- yet," commented Science magazine. "... the cumbersome technique is not
likely to lead to transgenic humans, green or otherwise."
Yet scientists point out that ANDi does represent the first evidence that
primate eggs can develop normally after genetic manipulation. "Ethics
considerations aside, the project might have been easier to achieve in
humans, for whom IVF technology is much more advanced," the journal wrote.
Dave King, a campaigner against human genetic engineering, said yesterday:
"This is yet another step on the slippery slope to designer babies ... It is
science out of control and at its most irresponsible. People should wake up
to the fact that genetic engineering of people could be just around the
corner."
If a more reliable technique to silence and replace targeted primate genes
could be developed, without the huge wastage of eggs involved, some doctors
argue that human couples who carry inheritable diseases should be offered
the opportunity to have GM babies.
"It all falls into the anti-cloning debate, the slippery slope, the Boys
from Brazil - but I think we have to sideline that," said Simon Fishel, head
of the IVF clinic at the Park Hospital, Nottingham.
"We've been striving for hundreds of thousands of years to eliminate human
diseases. If we get to the stage in human development where the only way to
do that is to attack the errors in our blueprint, then we have to try to
attack those errors. It doesn't mean attacking God's work.
"I see this as positive research. It just can't be moved into the human
dimension until we get, as best we can, a guarantee of the technology."
Dominic Wells, a reader in transgenic biology at Imperial College carrying
out research into gene therapy for muscular dystrophy, said of the ANDi
work: "This sort of technology would be totally forbidden in humans because
of the risk of damaging human genes."
That might not always be the case, he went on. "At the moment, most of us
hide behind the fact we couldn't conduct these sorts of techniques with any
sort of certainty. If the technology gets to the point where you could,
where we have eliminated many of the risks, we would carefully have to
consider whether it was ethical or not."
He said the world was caught between trying to restrict research which could
have huge medical benefits and allowing transgenic technology to fall into
unscrupulous hands.
"Either we risk delaying medically important technologies, or we risk
entering Brave New World," he said.
Dr Mayer argued that interfering in human DNA at the egg stage would never
be acceptable. "You would be experimenting on babies and the mothers who
carry them.
"All the animal work that goes on at the moment involves huge failure rates
and huge suffering. I don't think we could even contemplate that with
babies. The downside might not come out in the first generation but in the
second or later."
Useful links:
Oregon Health Sciences University <http://www.ohsu.edu>
Anti-vivisection group Uncaged discussion of transgenics
<http://www.uncaged.co.uk/biotech.htm>
Guardian Unlimited ) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001


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