Last month in Japan, a very special marmoset monkey was born–one who inherited from his parents not only their marmoset DNA, but also a jellyfish gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) that makes both the animal and his parents glow green under fluorescent light. The monkey parents aren’t the first primates to fluoresce, but they are the first to pass a genetically engineered trait to their offspring.
“The birth of this transgenic marmoset baby is undoubtedly a milestone,” write Gerald Schatten and Shoukhrat Mitalipov in a piece accompanying the paper, published today in the journal Nature. Scientists have previously created a menagerie of transgenic animals, including rats, rabbits, pigs, cows, cats, dogs, and even monkeys (in one study, scientists created monkeys that genetically mimic Huntington’s disease), but “no study has shown transmission of foreign DNA to gametes–the sperm and egg–which is essential for the generation of transgenic offspring. These offspring could then be bred to create transgenic-primate strains,” they add.
The ability to genetically engineer primates is essential for creating more-accurate animal models of human diseases, especially neurological ones. For example, Schatten and Mitalipov say,
Mice engineered to express the cystic fibrosis gene, for example, do not develop the lung problems that typify this disorder . . . Disorders of higher brain function, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are especially challenging to reproduce in rodents, and here, as with many other diseases, it is our closest animal relatives–the non-human primates–that offer potentially invaluable biological models.
I applaud the scientific breakthrough, but does anyone else find it a little creepy that we are now breeding transgenic animals, particularly primates?