Viral DNA was used to introduce a gene for a green fluorescent protein into monkeys, creating a new line of "glow-in-the-dark" transgenic primates for drug research work. Researchers involved in the instantly controversial project say this is the first time that a monkey has been genetically engineered so that a new gene entered into its DNA and was passed down to its offspring.
Scientists were able to create a transgenic monkey last year that could be used to study Huntington's disease, but the genetic rearrangement wasn't passed down to subsequent generations. Now scientists say this new approach will be able to develop a line of primates that can be genetically orchestrated to more closely match humans. That would give drug makers a better animal model for preclinical studies as they try to determine a drug's chances of working in people. In particular, the transgenic animals--which glow green under a fluorescent light--are expected to lead the way to new animal models that can be used for neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.
The work by Japanese scientists was published in Nature and heralded by drug researchers. But animal rights groups and some bioethicists were quick to condemn the genetic engineering work.
"We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings," said Dr David King, from the group Human Genetics Alert.