According to China Daily, a joint research group from China and the United States recently published a paper in the National Science Review on their findings from using gene-editing techniques to make rhesus macaques with a human gene related to brain development.
The result was macaques with better short-term memory and faster response times, but slower brain development.
The gene in question, MCPH1, affects fetal brain development in humans and relates to brain size.
To have the human gene affect the monkeys, researchers exposed the embryos to viruses containing the gene.
The New York Post cited Bing Su, geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, led the study as commenting:
"This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model."
When you compare humans to primates, our brains take much longer to develop. This leads to our prolonged childhoods, which are quite unique among animals.
Though the development of the brain in the genetically altered monkeys took longer, their brains were no bigger than usual.
Genetically altering monkeys with human DNA has led to significant backlash from the greater scientific community.
James Sikela, from the University of Colorado, stated:
"The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take."
"It is a classic slippery slope issue and one that we can expect to recur as this type of research is pursued."
Jacqueline Glover, also of the University of Colorado, commented on how the public will likely see the study:
"You just go to the Planet of the Apes immediately in the popular imagination."
"To humanize them is to cause harm. Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can't have a meaningful life in any context."
And Planet of the Apes was exactly where some people went on Twitter when learning of the study.
@primroseriordan Isn't this how planet of the apes started?— Don (@Don)1554973799.0
@StraightUpFaxYo Planet of the Apes?— Rida A (@Rida A)1555129827.0
@primroseriordan I’ve seen this movie. It doesn’t end well for us.— Garth Morrison (@Garth Morrison)1554965232.0
Guess they never watched Planet of the apes...Monkeys Genetically Edited to Mimic Human Brain Development… https://t.co/c8NuyLYrtL— Gunnar De Winter (@Gunnar De Winter)1554966760.0
Others commented on the ethical implications.
@StraightUpFaxYo Although I can see the motive behind doing so, to me, it’s immoral. This is essentially animal tes… https://t.co/DntupTBism— Gianina F (@Gianina F)1555129060.0
@primroseriordan Yes, transgenic monkeys do indeed raise very nasty ethical concerns. How this experimentation make… https://t.co/76cKVhuLHY— Michael Shoebridge (@Michael Shoebridge)1554972793.0
Animal experimentation is already a hotly debated issue in the scientific community. Experiments that involve exposing animals to human genes are even more so.
Making animals more human seems like a recipe for potential disaster.