Green-Glowing Monkeys Are Called a Genetic Engineering Milestone

By Eliza Strickland | May 27, 2009 5:22 pm

glow monkeyFive small monkeys that glow green under ultraviolet light are providing a beacon for medical research. Researchers introduced a jellyfish gene that codes for a fluorescent protein into the embryos of marmosets, and found that the resulting monkeys expressed the gene in all the cells of their body, including their egg and sperm cells–which means the genetically engineered primates can naturally pass on the foreign trait to their offspring. While creating a family of glowing monkeys doesn’t have obvious benefits for medical science, researchers say the study was really just a proof of concept.

Researchers have added genes to rhesus macaques before, but the new work with marmosets is the first to document that monkeys can pass an inserted gene along to future generations. That’s important because it opens the door to creating colonies of such “transgenic” monkeys by breeding, which would be far simpler than the cumbersome process of making each animal from scratch by inserting genes into embryos [AP]. Now that researchers have mastered the technique, they hope to create transgenic monkeys that carry genes associated with such diseases as Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

For the study, published in Nature, a research team led by geneticist Erika Sasaki injected a virus, called lentivirus, into marmoset embryos. The virus carried the gene encoding an enhanced version of green fluorescent protein or GFP, which the virus inserts into the marmosets’ genome [Science News]. Although 80 transgenic embryos were implanted into 50 marmoset females, only seven of the monkeys became pregnant, and three miscarried during their pregnancies. The four remaining surrogate mothers gave birth to five healthy infants (including one set of twins), and four of the five babies expressed the gene throughout their bodies. One went on to father a healthy baby that also carried the foreign gene.

“The birth of this transgenic marmoset baby is undoubtedly a milestone,” wrote developmental biologists Gerald Schatten and Shoukhrat Mitalipov in a commentary that accompanied the study. Mice are currently used as models for many human diseases, but are not ideal for studying brain disorders. “The mouse doesn’t give the answers to all the questions we need answered,” Mitalipov says. “There are lots of diseases that can only be modeled in primates” [Science News].

Related Content:
80beats: Studying Biology in Real-Time, and In Situ, With a Fluorescent Beacon
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Image: E.Sasaki et al

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Zach

    What do you mean no practical application? I predict UV lights will be basic monkey-detection and defense in the all to certain even of a monkey uprising.

  • Jasper

    Now introduce some bird genes and we can have flying monkeys that glow green.

  • Nick

    I have a great application for UV light sensitive proteins in primates – sun damage indicator spots. When your skin starts glowing green, GTFInside or re-apply that sunblock.

    Also, it would be wicked cool at a rave. Sign me up when the have the ability to implant these genes in an already-birthed human.

  • Jumblepudding

    I always compared the likelihood of the christian rapture to the likelihood of purple marmosets falling from the sky. Sounds like we’re one step closer to the latter, so who knows.

  • Stephanie

    Would the glowing cells look any different if they were cancerous? Could this be used to detect abnormal cells from the start?

  • Elegiac View

    No, I’m not against scientific research, but this… it seems senseless. To a point, it even looks like animal cruelty. Why do we want to inject unnatural genes into animals (or humans, for that matter)? If someone can give me a logical explanation, I’d be much obliged.

  • Skeptikor

    Elegiac: Unfortunately the genes that they will be injecting these monkeys with, and have been injecting mice with for a long time, are all too “natural”. They are genes that cause diseases that humans (and some animals) can suffer from. By creating strains of transgenic mice or monkeys, we can better study the behavior of the disease and how it responds to different treatments. The fact that they are now able to create transgenic monkeys is important to research because the monkey genome more closely matches the human genome that does the mouse genome.

    That’s the justification. However I share your feelings about this whole line of experimentation, especially when it involves animals that are so closely related to us. I would not be able to conduct those experiments, but I benefit from the results, so cannot condemn those who do.

  • http://msn veronica

    It’s very unfortunate that the real test research results are in the humans no matter how close the monkey genome matches the human. Quite offten other animals are alway frist to be tested on starting with the mouse,last to be the monkey.
    Here’s a little story which is true.Once an experimental drug was being tested on a group of the final animal ”MONKEY” a group of monkeys they were taged with a detector chip of sort.Well one of the monkeys got lost; it somehow got out of it’s cage it was never found but the scientist were sure it was just fine.
    the gfp is not approved as of yet if I’m wrong please correct me.I read that it is on trials thats why the monkeys are now being experimented on. I KNOW OF A HUMAN MONKEY which was injected with the gfp.When the person asked what the florecent stuff was she was told it was for her cellulitis .SHE had no such thing.therefor i would come to the conclusion people are being experimented on without their knowledge once again.

  • Missy

    this is sooooo AWESOME

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