A group of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have reported on their success in primate cloning. Using the technique which gave birth to the famous Dolly the sheep, they managed to create two identical copies of macaques. Named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, the two baby monkeys are aged eight and six weeks respectively.

It was thought this cloning technique would not work for primates

Being completely identical in terms of their genetic makeup, they appear to develop in a way normal to their species. According to Cell.com, previously it was assumed that this cloning technique would not work for primates, yet the Chinese biologists managed to refine the tech to make it suitable for cloning monkeys.

In 1999 scientists managed to "clone" a rhesus macaque by splitting an early-stage macaque embryo into multiple parts, but that attempt only resulted in creating a couple of identical twins, and not true clones. As reported by National Geographic, it took Mu-Ming Poo and his team from the Centre for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences two years to improve the existing methodology. The scientists added matrix RNA and trichostatin A to the cloned genome in order to significantly reduce the probability the animals they cloned would die. This approach allowed the awakening of more than two thousand additional genes. An added feature was a stimulation by an electric current during the egg fertilisation process which enhanced the subsequent production of an embryo.

Other primates can now be cloned, including humans

Even though Mr Poo recognised they faced "a lot of mistakes and failures" on their journey, the authors of the study noted that now there are no more barriers to human cloning - at least in technical terms - and the only issues still outstanding are ethics. As he pointed out in his interview to National Geographic, "the reason we decided to break this barrier is the production of animal models that will help in the treatment of people." According to him, their research is primarily aimed at improving methods of treating cancer, immunity disorders and other genetically induced conditions.

The cloning project was supported by the Chinese government, which promised further assistance in upcoming studies of primate cloning. The milestone discovery may usher in a brave new world of breakthrough biomedical research. It will unquestionably spark debate, however, over ethical aspects of potentially cloning yet another primate species, Homo Sapiens.