First monkeys with customized mutations born

The ultimate potential of precision gene-editing techniques is beginning to be realised. Today, researchers in China report the first monkeys engineered with targeted mutations, an achievement that could be a stepping stone to making more realistic research models of human diseases.

Xingxu Huang, a geneticist at the Model Animal Research Center of Nanjing University in China, and his colleagues successfully engineered twin cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) with two targeted mutations using the CRISPR/Cas9 system — a technology that has taken the field of genetic engineering by storm in the past year. Researchers have leveraged the technique to disrupt genes in mice and rats, but until now none had succeeded in primates.

The article is here.  Now solve for the equilibrium, as they like to say…

For the pointer I thank @autismcrisis.


I, for one, welcome our new ape masters.

I, for one, view every sensational report from an Chinese / Indian lab with a fair degree of suspicion / skepticism.

Not without good reason. Then again, they do have a lot of smart minds and an endless commitment of resources for pet projects. My skepticism comes not from my belief that they can't do it, but from the knowledge that they will lie about failures.

LOL at 'pet projects'!

They do have lots of smart mind and an endless supply of resources for pet projects. What they don't have is the willingness or ability to detect fraud. In a culture defined by academic fraud.

Add to that the autocratic way that research laboratories work, with one major research surrounded by a group of junior academics, post-grad and students *utterly* dependent on every little whim

Well, I would be slow to believe they have done much.

With that many people, they would stumble into excellence from the Law of Large Numbers.

Scientific progress relies on telling powerful establishment figures they are wrong. The law of large numbers may well turn up the occasional Einstein. The law of vested interests says he will never get published or employed by a university unless he toed the mass line.

That Chinese scientists are excellent is not the issue. That they cannot do good science in East Asia is.

So Much For Subtlety makes some good points.

Well, the Western universities are no reservations of tolerance either.

In fact, the way in which those with "verboten" opinions self-censor themselves or are mercilessly hunted down reminds me exactly of the late Communist Czechoslovakia in which I grew up.

See Summers, Larry. I would say that his inquisitors were precisely the kind of people who, in a red country, would populate the local equivalent of KGB.

Larry Summers is why Western liberal arts faculties are monocultural wastelands without a single good, interesting or new thought. They are the least tolerant work places in the world and the comparison with the former Soviet Union is not unjust. They are mainly run by people who saw the Soviet Union as a model after all.

But Science faculties are not like that. So Western universities ought to be able to do good science.

Chinese faculties are not like that either. Science or Humanities. It is amazing to hear what people can and do say. But they do have people with real power over their future and so they have to follow the general line. So some Departments at some universities are known for supporting X. Whatever X is. Everyone in that department has to agree with X. At another university it will be Y. Everyone there has to agree with Y. Or sometimes the department will have two factions - Z and W. Everyone's students will align with their teacher's faction and no one will speak to anyone from the other side.

It really is f**ked up sometimes.

It's perhaps too slow and subtle for us to notice now--but possibly one day we'll look back and characterize this era as when China started to pull ahead of the USA, with this increasing lead driven by advances in bioinformatics.

Maybe a decade or two from now China will be pumping out nucleotide consensus-averaged babies with intelligence, among other things, and we'll still be sitting around wasting billions of taxpayer money on "under-privileged" schools, tinkering around with the affirmative action spoils system, and making feel-good speeches.


Better to waste 600 bil each year on "defense" even though the number two country only spends 65 bil. USA USA!

It entertains me that you target school spending as waste and not, say, absurd things like the F-35. Which would you prefer to have: a useless jet or better educated kids? And that is just the first boondoggle that comes to mind.

An overweight belief in the blank slatism of life outcomes motivates school-spending and related programs, but not military spending, which I also happen to feel is outsized. This same belief is what makes intelligence-related bioinformatics research unpopular in the U.S, which is why I wrote what I did.

In any case, increasing spending on schooling and related programs has been largely ineffectual in the U.S--so better-educated kids is far from a given with increased spending.

Pretty sure a belief in the blank slate is not only, or even primarily, or maybe at all, what makes intelligence-related bioinformatics research unpopular in the U.S.

I'd guess he targeted schools, because both education and research have a similar goal, i.e. he purports them to be alternative policies to bring about the same result in "improving children".

Just like Japan and Korea did right? East Asian Universities produce excellent graduate students for Western STEM fields. They dont produce nearly as much good science.

Pretty cool.
But you have to find the genes responsible for a disease before you can make an animal model, which is why services like 23andme are so important.

Here is another development that should help us identify disease genes. Illumina claims they broke the $1,000 genome barrier with this:

How likely is it that this will be usable for whole genome modification, rather than simple changes to one or two genes? It's only going to be a few more years until we have the large samples we need to detect a significant fraction of the genes related to the additive heritability of intelligence. At that point, it would be nice to be able to directly edit genomes rather than performing costly embryo selection prior to implantation.

Selectively knocking out genes for research purposes is probably the goal for this, and would be helpful in research. We have "knock-out mice" that do the same type of thing.

I don't think creating knockout animal models is the goal here. The technology wasn't developed for gene knockouts, but for making specific nucleotide edits. And while it is a great tool for lab mice and rats, this work isn't about animal models. The technology is unusually effective and progressing rapidly.

I'd strongly disagree--this is *absolutely* about making better animal models. Mice are great for many things: they're small, easy to work with, and well-understood (particularly on the molecular biology/genetics front), but they're not the greatest model for a lot of things, particularly those that either involve the brain directly or require complex behavior to evaluate. Even where mice are reasonable models for something, it would be fairly prudent for the same effects to be replicated in one of our closer relatives.

If you look at the actual article, which is *not* the one linked above (it's this: from Cell), you'll see that they manipulated the embryo when it was still a single cell. Modifying the genome of an entire adult organism is a ways off yet. Also, note that they started with 186 embryos and ended up with 1 miscarriage and 1 set of twins. They claim to have eight more pregnant monkeys from that batch, none of which have delivered yet (The N=1 nature of this actually strikes me as somewhat shady, if I were a potential reviewer). Their off-target results are surprisingly good (no off-target mutations!), but there's definitely some mosaicism, so it's clear this works, but maybe not clear how well it does.

I don't mean to take too much away from the paper--it's exciting to know this works--but it's not like people will be CRISPR/cas9-ing their children any time soon.

Yes, it is already being done. Here it is being done on zebrafish embryos:

Other techniques have been used on mice and rats for years. I am not sure about humans, but technologies usually work on us too when they work on these other organisms.

This technology can maybe be used to edit 3-4 genes at a time. It's mostly a question of efficiency of editing, which is not yet known in any detail, and how many embryos you can afford to treat.

This is good news for genetic research, but not really much in terms of genetic engineering. I think what they just did was create "knock-out monkeys", like how researchers currently use "knock-out mice" where you can selectively suppress the expression of one or more genes.

Suppression of gene expression is the most likely cure for cancer and many other genetic diseases. The problem is that other genes can be suppressed.

Solve for the equilibrium: gay rights stunt?

Interesting question. If we discover that there are genetic roots to homosexuality (or any other 'disfavored' trait) will people delete them.

We are closer to eugenics than we imagine.

As per twin adoption studies, there seems to be some genetic basis to homosexuality, but it appears to be much weaker than that of intelligence.

Yet, the same people that will exclaim until they're blue in the face that homosexuals were "born this way" will typically also deny that intelligence has a substantial genetic basis.

From my point of view, it is academic whether they are born that way or choose to be that way. I support their equal rights as human beings and American citizens.

I admit to being somewhat annoyed by their masquerading as members of the opposite sex by slipping into exaggerated gender stereotypes; it is insulting.

I've been thinking lately how odd it is that a central line of argument for gay rights/gay marriage somehow came to be based on "it's not a choice." Seems irrelevant. They should have equal rights because what they are doing is a personal matter with minimal (at most) impact on third parties. There are plenty of behaviors that aren't truly freely chosen that we proscribe because they harm others. Say the male tendency towards violence for instance.

Agreed Turkey, that gays should be free to do as they wish as long as they don't infringe upon others, and that persecuting gays for being gay per se would be a quintessential victimless "crime."

Nonetheless, vocal gay rights proponents are generally motivated by emotion, not logic or principles.

AIDS and antibiotic-resistant STD's will have some impact on our live-and-let-live attitudes regarding sexuality.

I disagree. I think we are farther from eugenics* than people like to imagine.

*eugenics via precision gene-editing

Delete the genetic root?

People here surely are aware of the reason there has been a huge reduction in the population of Americans with Downs Syndrome, right?

I fully expect that if they find the predisposing gene for Type 1 we'll see a similar situation for diabetes. I can't see why it wouldn't apply to homosexuality.

In a manner of speaking.

"People here surely are aware of the reason there has been a huge reduction in the population of Americans with Downs Syndrome, right?"

Sadly, I wasn't aware of it. At least not statistically. I was aware that all of our children were tested pre-birth.

Are there any good stats for the current reduction in the population of Down's Syndrome? A cursory Google search failed to turn up anything other than the Wiki article on it.

"About 92% of pregnancies in the United Kingdom and Europe with a diagnosis of Down syndrome are terminated.[5] In the United States termination rates are around 67%; however this varies significantly depending upon the population looked at."

I've only seen guestimates like the ones you found.

There is no predisposing gene for T1D; there are dozens if not hundreds. Most heritable traits are complex, meaning they are due to multiple genetic factors that probably interact with each other and the environment. Monogenic diseases (e.g. Huntington's) are rare exceptions. While complex behavioral traits like sexual orientation may well be genetic, it's extremely unlikely we will ever find "the gay gene".

That's interesting, I understood the best guess (a solid one) is genetic predisposition followed by environmental trigger, but did not know it was probably a group of genes.

Possibly, homosexuality is congenital rather than hereditary.

Can they yet make all monkeys have coats like Japanese Macaques?

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The notion that any common disease is caused by genes has done a lot more to improve the careers of various researchers (especially the ones who won a Nobel Prize for the oncogene theory of cancer) than it has done to improve anyone's health.

For example, suppose that 100% of cases of Disease X are due to something in the environment...if you got rid of that environmental thing, the disease would vanish. Creating animals that for genetic reasons are likely to have Disease X is unlikely to help you find what in the environment causes Disease X. By distracting everyone (researchers, funders, journalists, the rest of us) from better research, I suspect such research is likely to make it harder to find the environmental cause.

This is old, and not about genetic modifications for intelligence, etc., but autism.

But it might be informative for this discussion.

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