KUNMING, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists said on Friday they had bred the country's first genetically engineered rhesus monkey, a step that could speed up the development of cures for diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's.
Scientists used green fluorescent protein (GFP), a substance that was originally isolated from a jellyfish and is now commonly used as a biotech marker, and implanted transgenic embryos in the uterus of surrogate mother monkeys, said Ji Weizhi, a researcher with Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Two transgenic monkeys were born in June 2008, both carrying the GFP gene, said Ji, who heads the transgenic monkey research team.
An animal tagged with GFP glows green when exposed to ultraviolet light, proving that a key gene sequence has been switched on.
One of the transgenic monkeys has survived till today, making China the third country in the world to have genetically engineer a monkey, after the United States in 2001 and Japan last year.
The success could eventually lead to lab monkeys that replicate some of human's most devastating diseases, and provide a new model for exploring how they are caused and how they may be cured, said Dr. Niu Yuyu, a member of Ji's research team.
"The work is important because medical researchers have hankered for an animal model that is closer to the human anatomy than rodents," said Dr. Niu.
Mice and rats, genetically engineered to have the symptoms of certain human diseases, are the mainstay of pre-clinical lab work, in which scientists test their theories before trying out any outcome on human volunteers.
Monkey tests, however, are internationally controversial, as some experts have warned of a potential ethics storm, brewed by fears that technology used on primates could be then used to create genetically-engineered humans.
In January, researchers with Yunnan Agricultural University bred the world's purest inbred line of pigs that may prove ideal organ donors for human beings.
International geneticists define "inbred line" of mammals as those that have had at least 20 generations of full-sibling or parent-offspring inbreeding and all of them trace back to the same pair of ancestors.
China has also stepped up research on genetically-modified (GM) crops in recent years.
The Chinese cabinet, the State Council, approved development of new crop varieties and promoted new GM strains in 2008.
To date, the Ministry of Agriculture has granted bio-safe certificates to many varieties of pest-resistant GM cotton, rice and corn, as well as herbicide-resistant GM soybeans.