You might’ve come across these cute cloned monkeys on the World Wide Web in the past week.
Their image has been shared across the Internet and held up as a symbol of progression, innovation and human scientific excellence, after they were created identical using the single cell nuclear transfer technique.
But look closely at little Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua:
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The tiny creatures, each clinging to their clone, are frightened. Their bulging but beautiful, wide-eyed stare tells of a process so horrific, it’s haunting.
Frame this video in a different way, as part of a different conversation, and it reads like something out of a clinically-lit Frankenstein-esque horror film.
Their life expectancy is less than six months. Statistics show 96 per cent of cloned animals do not survive beyond half a year. The scientists who created these macaque monkeys had to try 79 times before they ‘got it right’.
That’s 79 dead baby monkeys, implanted into 21 unwilling surrogate mothers, who were never given cute names by the medical PR company who justifies the scientific breakthrough.
Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were cloned using the same technique British scientists, based in Edinburgh, used way back in 1996 to play God and engineer Dolly the Sheep.
Their feats of intelligence are undoubtedly noteworthy. But at what cost?
Many cloned animals have faulty or suppressed immune systems and they suffer from a string of health issues including heart failure, respiratory difficulties, and structural disabilities.
Dolly was the sole surviving adult from 277 cloning attempts and she lived a peculiar, stunted life which was plagued from beginning to end by a string of health problems, including premature and severe arthritis.
She died of lung cancer, aged six, in 2003 after being euthanised. The life expectancy of sheep like Dolly is between 11 and 12 years.
Her taxidermied remains are on display in the National Museum of Scotland.
Many animal welfare bodies and activists have spoken out about the unimaginable suffering inflicted upon cloned animals – who have the same capacity for pain as the animals we keep as pets and worship at home.
Dr Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK, told UNILAD:
Experimenters constantly receive funds to perform monstrous experiments on animals, and cloning monkeys is the latest Frankenscience that PETA condemns.
Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time, and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable. Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale. This experiment – and all other experiments on animals – should be ended immediately.
Chinese scientist Qiang Sun, Director of the Nonhuman Primate Research Facility at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, led the team which conducted the research published in the journal Cell.
Qiang Sun said his work will ‘generate real models not just for genetically based brain diseases, but also cancer, immune or metabolic disorders and allow us to test the efficacy of the drugs for these conditions before clinical use’.
However, he recalled the difficult process of cloning, adding:
We tried several different methods, but only one worked. There was much failure before we found a way to successfully clone a monkey.
Co-author Muming Poo spoke of the ethical implications, reasoning:
We are very aware that future research using non-human primates anywhere in the world depends on scientists following very strict ethical standards.
The SCNT procedure is rather delicate, so the faster you do it, the less damage to the egg you have, and Dr. Liu has a green thumb for doing this.
It takes a lot of practice. Not everybody can do the enucleation and cell fusion process quickly and precisely, and it is likely that the optimization of transfer procedure greatly helped us to achieve this success.
While some argue the cloning process contributes to the mission to cure human disease, and can even help combat extinction in the animal kingdom, others question its necessity and, moreover, its morality.
Even eminent de-extinction scientists such as Beth Shapiro note the ethical implications of these scientific endeavours in How To Clone A Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, asserting the benefits must be weighed against the costs.
Long after we’ve forgotten about Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua – as we did with Dolly – they will still be subject to what many animal lovers would argue constitutes serious abuse in any other situation, in a lab in Shanghai, if they’re not already dead.
One question remains: Can the killing and suffering of over 100 animals justify one scientific ‘success’?