New monkey clone?

What really happened and what should creationists think?

by Jonathan Sarfati

A news headline proclaimed: ‘Researchers clone monkey by splitting embryo’. But was it really a clone, and what are the implications?


The famous cloned sheep, Dolly, was produced by taking the nucleus from an adult sheep and implanting it into a fertilized ovum (egg cell) with its own nucleus removed — see Hello Dolly! Cloning and Creation. Thus it was an almost identical genetic copy of the adult (apart from the mitochondrial DNA of the host ovum). In fact, Dolly has even inherited the ‘pre-aged’ genetic material of the adult from which she was cloned — see ‘Dolly’ is no babe. This premature aging might limit the usefulness of such cloning.

What about the monkey?

However, this new Rhesus monkey was not a clone in the sense of a copy of an adult monkey, or even an immature monkey, with fully differentiated tissue. Rather, researchers led by Professor Gerald Schatten, a researcher at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, split one embryo into four. First, they fertilized a normal egg with a normal sperm to produce a zygote or single-celled embryo. After this zygote had grown into an eight-celled embryo, it was divided into four two-cell embryos. Each two-cell embryo was then implanted into four surrogate Rhesus monkey mothers. Only one of the four monkeys survived, and was born 157 days later. She was named Tetra, the normal Greek-based prefix for ‘four’.

Schatten says: ‘This is just artificial twinning’, because identical twins are produced naturally when an embryo divides. Such artificial twinning is already common in cattle. And according to the report, ‘In 1993 Dr. Jerry Hall said he had cloned human embryos by splitting them, although he said the clones were destroyed.

What was the point?

Because monkey biology is more similar to human biology than mouse biology is, monkeys are more useful for clinical testing. But for good experimental control, it is useful to have genetically identical animals, so any differences can be attributed to the treatment rather than different individual reactions to the treatment. Dr John Strandberg of the National Institutes of Health said: ‘I can’t think of a single kind of monkey-based research that wouldn’t benefit from using identical animals.’ He pointed out that ‘identical animals are so valuable that researchers often inbreed mice or rats to obtain nearly the same effect.’ But it’s very rare for Rhesus monkeys to produce identical twins.

Identical animals are also important in the Nature/Nurture debate, that is, in determining what characteristics are the result of one’s genes, and what are caused by the environment. And it is vital to understand that many characteristics are caused by upbringing, and in humans, by one’s choices. So a clone of Hitler would not necessarily be a murderous Jew-hater, and a clone of Lenin would not necessarily be a ruthless Communist who would kill millions for a cause — see Hello Dolly! Cloning and Creation and Cloning: Right or Wrong?

Is this procedure moral?

Prof. Werner Gitt pointed out several biblical principles in Cloning: Right or Wrong?

  • God gave man dominion over the rest of creation, including animals (Genesis 1:28), and this now includes permission to kill them (Genesis 9:2–3). Therefore Drs Schatten and Strandberg are not acting contrary to Scripture simply because they advocate cloning animals.

  • Man is now sinful, and the creation is cursed. Therefore there is always the possibility that research can be abused. So careful checks and balances are required. But this is true of many fields of research, not just cloning and other genetic modification.

  • Christ’s example indicates that things (such as healing, binding wounds, peace-making, and feeding the hungry) which oppose the effects of the Curse are ‘blessed’. This would include the medical advances which might be possible with identical monkeys.

What about human cloning?

Humans were created separately, in God’s image, unlike the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:26–27). Humans were never told to have dominion over other humans, nor manipulate them. And God expressly commanded ‘Thou shalt not kill [the Hebrew ratsach means ‘murder’, that is, intentional killing of innocent humans]’ (Exodus 20:13).

Genesis 1:28, Exodus 20:12 and Malachi 2:13 indicate God designed human children to be produced in a family unit with a married father and mother.

Cloning of humans is thus anti-scriptural, because it necessarily violates all these principles. Jerry Hall, mentioned above, produced new human beings outside the family unit, manipulated them as if they were merely other animals, and had them destroyed. That is totally immoral.


Published: 11 February 2006