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CNN Today

Scientists to Announce Cloning of Monkey Using 'Embryo Splitting' After Years of Development in this Controversial Science

Aired January 13, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Monkey business may never be the same after today. Scientists are going public, this hour, with the news that they've cloned a monkey. Well, you might say they've done that with sheep, but this was an entirely-different technique. The implications for human medical research, say the experts, are tremendous.

Let's begin our cloning coverage with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen in Portland, Oregon.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Tetra, the cloned monkey. She may become as famous as Dolly, the cloned sheep. Tetra, who's four months old, is the first monkey cloned using a process called "embryo splitting." It potentially creates unlimited numbers of identical offspring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're very excited about this. This is another step in the progress that has been made.

COHEN: Excited because genetically-identical monkeys are invaluable in research, and monkeys rarely have twins on their own.

GERALD SCHATTEN, OREGON REGIONAL PRIMATE RESEARCH CENTER: What we would say we are on the road towards is making identical twins, identical triplets and the identical quadruplets which could serve as the models for curing the life-threatening diseases that still plague us today.

(on camera): Tetra was conceived here at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center. Now, there's a big difference between Tetra the monkey and Dolly the sheep. Dolly had only one parent and was a genetic clone of that parent. Tetra, on the other hand, was a clone of her sisters. Researchers took one embryo and split it into four clones.

(voice-over): Here's how scientists created Tetra: They obtained an egg from a female monkey and sperm from a male monkey, put them together and created an embryo. That embryo then divided into eight cells. Researchers split that embryo into four two-celled embryos. Those four embryos were then implanted into surrogate mothers. Only one embryo survived, and Tetra was born. Researchers say they're not sure why Tetra's sisters died in the womb, but Tetra, who's name means "one of four," is indistinguishable from her playmates.

SCHATTEN: Tetra is a frisky, energetic, healthy little girl, and she's growing up with a number of her buddies as a normal monkey.

COHEN: Theoretically, the technology that created Tetra could be applied to humans, but right now there's a ban on using federal funds to research human cloning. Scientists here say they have no interest in cloning people, just animals, who can help find cures for human diseases.


COHEN: In May, the researchers here in Oregon are expecting the birth of two sets of identical twin monkeys. They'll be clones, and they're conceived using the same embryo-splitting process -- Lou.

WATERS: Elizabeth, we have scientists today telling us that the results of this process are -- are exciting and valuable. The head of the comparative medicine unit at the National Institutes of Health says identical animals are so valuable. Why are they so valuable? Why do they need all these identical monkeys?

COHEN: They're valuable, Lou, because let's say you're testing a drug for Alzheimers or, really, for any disease. What you want to do is test that drug and get rid of all the other variables, what scientists call the noise in the background. You want to make sure that the results are because of your drug and not something because of the animal. Well, if you have copies of all the same animal, then you know that the results that you're getting are more valid because they're all genetically similar, they're exactly the same.

WATERS: Well, this embryo splitting you're talking about is not -- is not new in the sense that animals prior to now have been -- have been cloned, but so it's the monkey that apparently is more important than other identical animals.

COHEN: Exactly, because we can. I mean, scientists do testing on mice and rats and all sorts of animals, but there's nothing like testing on a monkey; they're the closest to humans and so that's really the gold standard. That's what you want to be using, is monkeys, not other animals.

WATERS: So we're closer to humans. We're three years into this voluntary moratorium on human cloning research by the scientists. Does this -- does this have any implications in that regard?

COHEN: Well, one of the things to remember about this technique is that you can get some mad, crazy person out there deciding they want to clone themselves using this technique. You still need a mother and a father. The offspring are clones of each other, so in that way it's very different, and it cuts down on some that -- the scary part of cloning.

WATERS: Do we know what's next in this process of cloning? As I understand it, this monkey that was born, Tetra, is one of four embryos implanted. The other three didn't make it.

COHEN: Right. The next step is -- well, to await these births they're expecting in May, and they need to figure out why Tetra's three sisters died. It might have something to do with the fact that they were conceived in this unusual way, or it might just be that, because they were put into surrogate mothers, in other words, in vetro fertilization, that they just didn't take. That happens in humans, that happens in non-human primates. They're really not sure if it's unique to this process or just sort of what nature does.

WATERS: All right, Elizabeth Cohen in Portland, Oregon, today, where that research has taken place. There will be more on all of this on "TALKBACK LIVE," which immediately follows this CNN TODAY -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And we've got more on the cloning procedure, the cloning of Dolly the sheep and the celebration and controversy her birth set in motion.

CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore reports that.


DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember Dolly? Dr. Ian Wilmut (ph) introduced the world's first cloned mammal in February of 1997. Dolly was developed from an adult animal cell using a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer. It was a feat many believed was impossible, but, once proven, spurred fear, debate and new legislation around the world. President Clinton issued a moratorium banning the use of federal dollars for any project relating to human cloning and asked his national bioethics advisory board to look into the legal and ethical issues.

Later that year came Gene, a cloned bull. Gene started life as a collection of very basic fetal cells. They were grown until ready to be put inside a specially-prepared cow's egg. This egg, with completely-new genetic content, was implanted into a cow. Months later, gene was born.

In January of 1998, a scientist in Chicago caused an uproar when he announced plans to attempt human cloning. Dr. Richard Seed (ph) said he planned to use the same kind of technology used to produce Dolly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was seven years old, I was brilliant and crazy. I don't mind being called crazy.

SALVATORE: The White House has asked for government and private industry to comply with the ban on human cloning, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its authority to regulate human cloning, making it against federal law to try to clone a human using the cell transfer method that yielded Dolly.

Still, no one can be sure that human cloning activity isn't under way in the private sector. Dr. Richard Seed, in fact, has declared he will attempt human cloning in the future. Cloning experiments using frogs and tadpoles date back to the 1970s. The late '90s saw the progression to mammals, including cloned calves George and Charlie, cloned sheep Molly and Polly and the cloning of multiple generations of mice.

(on camera): Researchers hope to use cloning as a faster and more efficient way to study drugs and fight diseases. While they admit there's tremendous potential for medical advances using this technology, they say that value has to be weighed against the fears of those who say cloning will bring disastrous results.

Dr. Steve Salvatore, CNN, reporting.



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