Skip to main content
ad info
  healthAIDS Aging Alternative Medicine Cancer Children Diet & Fitness Men Women
    Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  

4:30pm ET, 4/16


Elizabeth Cohen on first genetically modified monkey

January 11, 2001
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EST (2047 GMT)

Elizabeth Cohen
Elizabeth Cohen  

CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports on the first genetically modified primate, a new scientific breakthrough researchers hope will help in studying human diseases.

Q: How significant of a breakthrough is this in the scientific community and what exactly did the scientists do?

COHEN: What scientists did is they took a gene from a jellyfish and they inserted it into normal rhesus monkey egg. They then fertilized that egg and a monkey was born. They checked the monkey and he actually carries the jellyfish DNA in his body.

This sounds like mad science, but it's really not. They did it for a reason.


The reason why they did is because they wanted to prove a principle. If you can insert a gene from a jellyfish into a monkey, then you can insert a gene theoretically of a human being into a monkey.

For example, if you inserted the Alzheimer's gene into a monkey, that monkey would then be a good model for studying Alzheimer's disease. The same would be true for breast cancer, schizophrenia, diabetes and for a whole host of diseases.

Right now, scientists do insert genes into mice, but a mouse is not a fantastic model for studying human beings. We are obviously much closer to monkeys than we are to mice.

Q: Can a gene be inserted into a human? If not, how long until they can?

COHEN: Scientists actually don't hope to reach that goal. We've talked to many scientists and many ethicists, and they said they don't know of anyone who is trying to insert a gene from one species into a human being.

Now that they have done it with a monkey, theoretically that would be possible, but there doesn't seem to be any medical or clinical reason why you would want to do that.

People always hold the specter of "Well, gosh, what about that mad scientist out there who says, `Hey, I think I'll try this in my basement.'"

Q: What are the ethical concerns that might arise from this breakthrough?

COHEN: The ethical concerns for doing it in a monkey are basically if you believe in animal rights, then you don't like what they've done here today. Animal rights activists don't like it when any research is done on animals.

They particularly don't like this, because this monkey's offspring could also have this jellyfish gene. So, they say not only are you experimenting on a monkey, you're changing around the very basic building blocks of life. And you're not just changing this monkey, you could be changing his offspring.

So, they are very much against this.

As far as the ethics of doing this in human beings, we haven't even really gotten there because no one appears to want to do it. But if anyone ever proposed it, there would be a huge, huge, huge debate, because there doesn't seem to be any benefits to doing this in a human being.

Q: Does this monkey glow green like a jellyfish?

COHEN: This genetically engineered monkey named ANDi, which stands for "inserted DNA" backwards because that was the technique they used to get the DNA in him, does not glow when you put him under ultraviolet light.

Even if you put parts of his body under a microscope, he doesn't glow green.

However, they did have two monkeys in whom they inserted the jellyfish gene and who were stillborn. For them, when you put their fingernails under a microscope and put them under ultraviolet light, the fingernails glowed green and their hair also glowed green. The placenta also glowed green.

For some reason, ANDi doesn't and they don't know why that is. And they don't know if the fact that the stillborns glowed green had something to do with the fact they didn't live.

Vaccine protects monkeys from Ebola infection
November 29, 2000
Laboratory-grown corneas may benefit research
December 9, 1999

Oregon Regional Primate Research Center Home Page
Oregon Health Sciences University
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top