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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Glowing Monkeys Make More Glowing Monkeys the Old-Fashioned Way


The first genetically modified primates that can pass their modifications to their offpsring have been created by Japanese scientists.

The marmosets, pictured above, express a green fluorescent protein in their skin. The gene for producing the glow was delivered to the first marmoset embryos via a modified virus. But now that modification method could become unnecessary. One male marmoset, number 666, fathered a child (pictured at right) that also contained the transgenes.

“The birth of this transgenic marmoset baby is undoubtedly a milestone,” developmental biologists Gerald Schatten and Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Pittsburgh Development Center and Oregon Stem Cell Center, respectively wrote in a commentary accompanying the study Thursday in Nature. “The cumbersome and often frustrating process of making a transgenic animal from scratch need now only occur with founder animals.”

monkey_2Transgenic animals are a key tool in the biomedical researchers’ toolbox. They allow scientists to model the function of genes and the efficacy of treatments. Many transgenic mice lines exist, but often the small rodents are too different from humans to effectively extrapolate their responses to human beings. Primates, on the other hand, are far closer biologically to humans, but before the new technique, creating primate models had proven difficult and expensive.

Now, biologists may be able to produce whole groups of marmosets that mimic humans with genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis.

“Subsequent generations can be produced by natural propagation, with the eventual establishment of transgene-specific monkey colonies — a potentially invaluable resource for studying incurable human disorders, and one that may also contribute to preserving endangered primate species,” Schatten and Shoukhrat continued.

Instead of using bonobos or chimps, the research team led by Erika Sasaki at the Central Institute for Experimental Animals in Japan picked the common marmoset because its “size, availability, and unique biological characteristics” make it a potentially useful animal, particularly in tough fields like neuroscience and stem cell research.