As part of an experiment to study the development of human intelligence, Chinese scientists have used gene-editing techniques to create transgenic monkeys ( rhesus macaque) with additional copies of a human gene believed to play a vital role in cognitive development among humans, reports MIT Technology Review.
“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” said the geneticist who led the effort at the Kunming Institute of Zoology Bing Su.
Interestingly, the study’s findings showed that the genetically modified macaques performed better on memory tests which used colours and block pictures. Moreover, brain development of these altered monkeys was also prolonged, similar to how brains of human children take longer to develop compared to other primates.
The Chinese efforts may be promising in terms of unlocking the secrets of human cognition, but a number of Western scientists have come out in strong criticism of the experiment, questioning the medical ethics of making such gene modifications in monkeys.
“The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,” said University of Colorado geneticist James Sikela. He expressed concern that the experiment exhibited disregard to animals and had paved the way for even more extreme gene editing in the future.