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CNN Today

Scientists in Oregon Create Genetically Altered Monkey

Aired January 11, 2001 - 4:26 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The science community is buzzing today over the announcement of an advance in genetic research. Scientists in Oregon say they have produced a genetically-engineered monkey. Many call it a victory on the road to cures for a long list of human diseases. Others are concerned about the potential for abuse.

CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been looking into all of this. She joins us now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Andi. He looks like a normal monkey, but he's not. Researchers inserted a gene from a jellyfish into Andi's chromosomes. Now, Andi doesn't glow green like this jellyfish, but scientists say he might someday. Two other monkeys given the jellyfish gene, who were stillborn, did glow. Put under a microscope and under ultraviolet light, their fingernails and their hair were green.

Here's how the scientists made these monkeys: They injected the gene for green fluorescence into an egg from a normal female rhesus monkey. The gene was packed inside an inactivated virus, seen here as a red ball. The virus opened up and the jellyfish DNA entered the egg.

Then the jellyfish DNA joined up with monkey's own DNA. Here, the blue strand is the monkey DNA; the white piece is the jellyfish DNA. So the monkey's chromosomes, seen here at the top of the egg, contained the jellyfish gene.

The egg was then fertilized with a sperm from a normal male monkey. The egg divided, and that was the beginning of Andi. He's not the first. Other animals, including these mice two years ago, have been injected with the jellyfish gene. You may wonder, why would anyone want to do this?

(on camera): The scientists figure that if they can insert a jellyfish gene into a monkey, then someday they could insert a human gene into a monkey and use that monkey for scientific research. A monkey with a human gene for breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia would be a great model for studying and treating human diseases -- much better than a mouse.

GERALD SCHATTEN, OHSU PRIMATE RESEARCH CENTER: We think that Andi, as the first genetically-modified primate, will accelerate the day when cures that are discovered on laboratory benches can be moved to patients' bedsides.

COHEN: Scientists are excited about this new development, but animal rights activists are not. They say humans shouldn't tamper with the basic building blocks of life, especially since Andi's offspring could also carry the jellyfish gene. Could the next step be inserting genes from animals into humans? Scientists say no one's heading down that road because at this point, it would serve no purpose.

SCHATTEN: We don't support any extension or extrapolation of this work from a laboratory animal to people.

COHEN: By the way, if you're wondering where Andi got his name, the "i" is for inserted, and the rest of DNA is backwards because with the technique used on Andi, the DNA was inserted into the egg backwards.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Well, if they don't plan any extrapolation to humans, why do it?

COHEN: Well, what they mean -- what Dr. Schatten means is that they don't plan on taking the technology that allowed them to insert a foreign species gene into a monkey, they don't plan on inserting a gene from one species into a human. That's what he meant.

Now, of course, the ultimate design is to help humans but that's by using a monkey as a model for diseases by giving a monkey, say, Alzheimer's disease you can learn a lot more about the disease than if you gave it to a mouse who doesn't manifest Alzheimer's disease in the same way, obviously, that a monkey would.

WATERS: Are we talking here about the possibility of a cure for Alzheimer's, cancer?

COHEN: That's what they're talking far down the road. Now, some people say yes, that is a possibility. But you know, it is quite awhile because there are -- there are a lot of things that they need to work out. For example, when they gave Andi the gene for green fluorescence, he doesn't glow under a microscope or under ultraviolet light.

So, he has the gene, but his body doesn't actually express the gene. So, they would have to work that out. They would have to figure out what that happens. Also, breeding monkey babies takes a long time. It's not like breeding rice -- breeding mice, where you get lots of babies all the time. So, it's -- it could be a ways away.

WATERS: It's getting complicated.

COHEN: It does get complicated.

WATERS: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.

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