Chinese scientists have implanted genes that are key to the development of the human brain in macaques, an experiment that according to its authors will shed light on the evolution of human intelligence.
The gene chosen by the researchers is MCPH1, which scientists believe is involved in the development of the human brain.
The eleven monkeys to which that gene was implanted showed better results in short-term memory tests as well as reaction time compared to wild monkeys. However, their brains needed more time to develop. It is worth remembering that, although the human being has a brain larger than that of all primates, scientists did not find that the brain of those monkeys grew more than those of their congeners in a control group.
The news has provoked and an ethical debate in the international scientific community, concerned about the direction that experimentation takes in Chinese laboratories.
“Our findings showed that transgenic non-human primates have the potential to provide important knowledge about what makes human beings unique”, explained the study, carried out by the Institute Kunming of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, together with researchers from the University of North Carolina.
The study was published last month in the Chinese National Science Journal.
Only five monkeys survived the tests.
“For the general public, all this immediately recalls the ‘Planet of the Apes'” criticized Jacqueline Glover, an expert in bioethics at the University of Colorado.
“Humanizing them [the monkeys] is causing them harm or Where could they live and what would they do? We do not believe an animal that can not have a full life in any context,” she asked in an interview with the American magazine MIT Technology Review.
But Larry Baum, a researcher at the Center for Genome Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, sci-fi comparisons are unfounded.
“This study hardly changed a handful of genes,” he said. “Let each one draw his conclusions on whether there is to worry about,” he added.