Monkeys injected with human brain genes grew 'intelligent' in controversial study

The monkeys also performed significantly better in short-term memory tests & reaction time.


Planet of the Apes is still science-fiction. But we've inched a little closer to super-intelligent monkeys thanks to a research group in China.

Chinese researchers have successfully implanted genes from the human brain into monkeys — a big study towards understanding how humans evolved to become intelligent.

Researchers inserted the MCPH1 gene, which plays a role in the development of the human brain into rhesus monkeys — eleven of them. The monkey brains seemed to respond as the researchers hoped.

Monkeys injected with human brain genes grew intelligent in controversial study

Representational image. Pixabay

Luckily (for all involved), the modified brains weren't any larger than normal monkey brains, and only took longer to develop, resembling human brain development more closely. The animals also performed significantly better in short-term memory tests and reaction time, two important parameters scientists look at to classify a species as intelligent.

"Our findings demonstrated that transgenic nonhuman primates (excluding ape species) have the potential to provide important and potentially unique insights into basic questions of what actually makes human unique," the authors wrote

Memory tests required the monkeys to recall different colours and shapes shown to them on a screen while they were being monitored using an MRI. Only five of the monkeys survived into the testing stage.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed to have helped make the worlds first genetically edited babies: twin girls whose DNA he said he altered to remove HIV. AP

Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed to have helped make the worlds first genetically edited babies: twin girls whose DNA he said he altered to remove HIV. AP

"The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take," James Sikela, a geneticist working with primates at the University of Colorado, told MIT Technology Review. "It is troubling that the field is steamrolling along in this manner."

The study joins a series of experiments in China that, in recent years, have fuelled debates in medical ethics. Earlier this year, researchers cloned five macaques from a single genetically-engineered monkey with a sleep disorder, and all five of its clones developed mental issues as a result, according to an Earth.com report.

Recently, Professor He Jiankui, a genetic scientist, was laid off by his University and prosecuted for creating the first gene-edited babies without seeking the required ethical approvals in November 2018. The research was published in the National Science Review, a Beijing-based journal.

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