Scientists Create Early Embryos That Are Part Human, Part Monkey

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April 15, 202111:01 AM ET

Rob Stein, photographed for NPR, 22 January 2020, in Washington DC.

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Using fluorescent antibody-based stains and advanced microscopy, researchers are able to visualize cells of different species origins in an early stage chimeric embryo. The red color indicates the cells of human origin.Weizhi Ji/Kunming University of Science and Technology

For the first time, scientists have created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells.

The embryos, described Thursday in the journal Cell, were created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants, says the international team of scientists who collaborated in the work. But the research raises a variety of concerns.

“My first question is: Why?” says Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Still, the scientists who conducted the research, and some other bioethicists defended the experiment.

“This is one of the major problems in medicine — organ transplantation,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, Calif., and a co-author of the Cell study. “The demand for that is much higher than the supply.”Article continues after sponsor message


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“I don’t see this type of research being ethically problematic,” says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University. “It’s aimed at lofty humanitarian goals.”

Thousands of people die every year in the United States waiting for an organ transplant, Hyun notes. So, in recent years, some researchers in the U.S. and beyond have been injecting human stem cells into sheep and pig embryos to see if they might eventually grow human organs in such animals for transplantation.

But so far, that approach hasn’t worked. So Belmonte teamed up with scientists in China and elsewhere to try something different. The researchers injected 25 cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells from humans — commonly called iPS cells — into embryos from macaque monkeys, which are much more closely genetically related to humans than are sheep and pigs.

After one day, the researchers report, they were able to detect human cells growing in 132 of the embryos, and were able study the embryos for up to 19 days. That enabled the scientists to learn more about how animal cells and human cells communicate, an important step toward eventually helping researchers find new ways to grow organs for transplantation in other animals, Belmonte says.


In Search For Cures, Scientists Create Embryos That Are Both Animal And Human


Embryo Experiments Reveal Earliest Human Development, But Stir Ethical Debate

“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Belmonte tells NPR. “We are very, very excited.”

Such mixed-species embryos are known as chimeras, named for the fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part-lion, part-goat, part-snake.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte says. “And we are not doing anything like that. We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.”

In addition, Belmonte hopes this kind of work could lead to new insights into early human development, aging and the underlying causes of cancer and other disease.

Some other scientists NPR spoke with agree the research could be very useful.

“This work is an important step that provides very compelling evidence that someday when we understand fully what the process is we could make them develop into a heart or a kidney or lungs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Platt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, who is doing related experiments but was not involved in the new research.

But this type of scientific work and the possibilities it opens up raises serious questions for some ethicists. The biggest concern, they say, is that someone could try to take this work further and attempt to make a baby out of an embryo made this way. Specifically, the critics worry that human cells could become part of the developing brain of such an embryo — and of the brain of the resulting animal.

“Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else?” says Matthews. “At what point are you taking something and using it for organs when it actually is starting to think, and have logic?”

Another concern is that using human cells in this way could produce animals that have human sperm or eggs.

“Nobody really wants monkeys walking around with human eggs and human sperm inside them,” says Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist, who co-wrote an article in the same issue of the journal that critiques the line of research, while noting that this particular study was ethically done. “Because if a monkey with human sperm meets a monkey with human eggs, nobody wants a human embryo inside a monkey’s uterus.”

Belmonte acknowledges the ethical concerns. But he stresses that his team has no intention of trying to create animals with the part-human, part-monkey embryos, or to even try to grow human organs in such a closely related species. He says his team consulted closely with bioethicists, including Greely.

Greely says he hopes the work will spur a more general debate about how far scientists should be allowed to go with this kind of research.

“I don’t think we’re on the edge of beyond the Planet of the Apes. I think rogue scientists are few and far between. But they’re not zero,” Greely says. “So I do think it’s an appropriate time for us to start thinking about, ‘Should we ever let these go beyond a petri dish?’ “

For several years, the National Institutes of Health has been weighing the idea of lifting a ban on funding for this kind of research, but has been waiting for new guidelines, which are expected to come out next month, from the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The notion of using organs from animals for transplants has also long raised concerns about spreading viruses from animals to humans. So, if the current research comes to fruition, steps would have to be taken to reduce that infection risk, scientists say, such as carefully sequestering animals used for that purpose and screening any organs used for transplantation.

Future Vaccines Depend on Test Subjects in Short Supply: Monkeys

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The Coronavirus Outbreak

Veterinary techs distribute food every morning to more than 5,000 monkeys at the Tulane University National Primate Research Center outside New Orleans.
Veterinary techs distribute food every morning to more than 5,000 monkeys at the Tulane University National Primate Research Center outside New Orleans.

Future Vaccines Depend on Test Subjects in Short Supply: Monkeys

Veterinary techs distribute food every morning to more than 5,000 monkeys at the Tulane University National Primate Research Center outside New Orleans.Credit…

By Sui-Lee Wee

Photographs and Video by Bryan Tarnowski

  • Feb. 23, 2021


Mark Lewis was desperate to find monkeys. Millions of human lives, all over the world, were at stake.

Mr. Lewis, the chief executive of Bioqual, was responsible for providing lab monkeys to pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which needed the animals to develop their Covid-19 vaccines. But as the coronavirus swept across the United States last year, there were few of the specially bred monkeys to be found anywhere in the world.

Unable to furnish scientists with monkeys, which can cost more than $10,000 each, about a dozen companies were left scrambling for research animals at the height of the pandemic.

“We lost work because we couldn’t supply the animals in the time frame,” Mr. Lewis said.

The world needs monkeys, whose DNA closely resembles that of humans, to develop Covid-19 vaccines. But a global shortage, resulting from the unexpected demand caused by the pandemic, has been exacerbated by a recent ban on the sale of wildlife from China, the leading supplier of the lab animals.

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The latest shortage has revived talk about creating a strategic monkey reserve in the United States, an emergency stockpile similar to those maintained by the government for oil and grain.

The United States has as many 25,000 lab monkeys at its seven primate centers. The majority are pink-faced rhesus macaques, like these at Tulane. 
The United States has as many 25,000 lab monkeys at its seven primate centers. The majority are pink-faced rhesus macaques, like these at Tulane. 
The monkeys may work for peanuts, but they are invaluable as test subjects for coronavirus vaccines.
The monkeys may work for peanuts, but they are invaluable as test subjects for coronavirus vaccines.

As new variants of the coronavirus threaten to make the current batch of vaccines obsolete, scientists are racing to find new sources of monkeys, and the United States is reassessing its reliance on China, a rival with its own biotech ambitions.

The pandemic has underscored how much China controls the supply of lifesaving goods, including masks and drugs, that the United States needs in a crisis.

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American scientists have searched private and government-funded facilities in Southeast Asia as well as Mauritius, a tiny island nation off southeast Africa, for stocks of their preferred test subjects, rhesus macaques and cynomolgus macaques, also known as long-tailed macaques.YOUR CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: We’ll send you the latest data for places you care about each day.Sign Up

But no country can make up for what China previously supplied. Before the pandemic, China provided over 60 percent of the 33,818 primates, mostly cynomolgus macaques, imported into the United States in 2019, according to analyst estimates based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The United States has as many 25,000 lab monkeys — predominantly pink-faced rhesus macaques — at its seven primate centers. About 600 to 800 of those animals have been subject to coronavirus research since the pandemic began.


Scientists say monkeys are the ideal specimens for researching coronavirus vaccines before they are tested on humans. The primates share more than 90 percent of our DNA, and their similar biology means they can be tested with nasal swabs and have their lungs scanned. Scientists say it is almost impossible to find a substitute to test Covid-19 vaccines in, although drugs such as dexamethasone, the steroid that was used to treat President Donald J. Trump, have been tested in hamsters.

The United States once relied on India to supply rhesus macaques. But in 1978, India halted its exports after the Indian press reported that the monkeys were being used in military testing in the United States. Pharmaceutical companies searched for an alternative.

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Eventually, they landed on China.

The pandemic upset what had been a decades-long relationship between American scientists and Chinese suppliers.

The Tulane lab is one of seven national primate research centers. When not undergoing research, the monkeys live in colonies with access to the outdoors and enrichment activities.
The Tulane lab is one of seven national primate research centers. When not undergoing research, the monkeys live in colonies with access to the outdoors and enrichment activities.
The United States once relied on India to supply rhesus macaques, but India halted its exports in 1978.
The United States once relied on India to supply rhesus macaques, but India halted its exports in 1978.

“When the China market closed down, that just forced everyone to go to a smaller number of available animals,” said Mr. Lewis.


Man charged in leopard mauling incident is a notorious backyard breeder of primates

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

November 3, 2020 0 Comments

Man charged in leopard mauling incident is a notorious backyard breeder of primates

In order to be sold as pets, infant monkeys are pulled from their mothers for sale to the pet trade. Photo by Picture Press/Alamy Stock Photo

A backyard breeder of primates who has been on our radar for years was in the news this week for an incident that defies all common sense. Michael Poggi, who runs his operation from his home in Florida, charged a man $150 in August for a “full contact experience” with an adult leopard in his possession. According to an investigative report by Florida officials, Poggi agreed to let the victim, Dwight Turner, go inside the leopard’s cage to “play with it, rub its belly and take pictures.” The leopard attacked Turner, biting him on the head and the ear.

Turner underwent multiple surgeries for his critical injuries. Poggi was charged by the state of Florida with a misdemeanor for keeping wildlife in an unsafe condition and for allowing full contact with an extremely dangerous animal.

Our wildlife team began tracking Poggi years ago because of his backyard primate breeding business. While this aspect escaped the attention of the media reporting on the leopard incident, it is just as concerning because of the public safety and animal welfare problems involved.

In order to be sold as pets, infant monkeys are pulled from their mothers for sale to the pet trade. Poggi advertises baby marmosets on the internet for prices as high as $5,900, with “financing available”. Records show that in 2014, Poggi sold a six-week-old marmoset monkey to a Massachusetts couple for $3,500. A year later, the monkey was confiscated by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game because keeping a pet monkey in the state is illegal.

Poggi also offers close encounters with wild animals as well as takes animals off-site to birthday parties and other events.

As cute as they are, primates like marmosets and capuchin monkeys are not pets. Even the smallest primates are incredibly strong and can inflict serious injuries with their teeth and nails, including puncture wounds, severe lacerations and infections. Experts also agree that keeping primates can be extremely traumatic to the animals. Marmosets, for instance, like all primates, are intelligent and emotionally complex animals who need to be with their mothers for an appropriate amount of time and around their own kind to develop normally.

As veterinarian Kevin Wright, director of conservation, science and sanctuary at the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona points out, when kept in homes, primates are almost certain to become mentally disturbed. “The animal will never be able to fit in any other home. Never learn how to get along with other monkeys. And, more often than not, will end up with a lot of behavioral traits that are self-destructive.”

We have seen first-hand the suffering primates endure in captivity. Many of the primates at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch have been rescued from the exotic pet trade, including Willie, a pig tailed macaque, and Jackie, a capuchin monkey. Jackie had been a pet for 20 years and was living in a large bird cage in someone’s home for much of her life when she was seized by Louisiana authorities. Willie came to us 20 years ago after he bit his owner.

There have been 540 documented safety incidents involving captive primates in the United States since 1990, and more than half have been attributed to primates kept as pets. Zoonotic diseases – caused by germs that spread between people and animals – are also a concern. Human cold sores, according to Wright, can kill smaller monkeys like marmosets and tamarins. Macaques can carry herpes B, a potentially fatal virus to humans, infecting them through bites or scratches.

Approximately 25 states now prohibit keeping some or all primate species as pets, but these laws have limitations. Primates continue to be easily available from backyard breeders like Poggi and on the internet, so anyone who wants to keep a monkey as a pet can easily buy one.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund are supporting bills in Congress that would stop the exploitation of primates and big cats. The Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 2562/H.R. 1776, would make it difficult for individuals not qualified to handle primates to buy and keep them as pets. The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would prohibit the interstate and foreign commerce of these animals for the exotic pet trade. It would not impact zoos, universities or wildlife sanctuaries. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2561/H.R. 1380, introduced by Sen. Blumenthal and Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would ban the possession of big cat species like tigers, lions and leopards by unqualified individuals, and it would prohibit poorly run animal exhibitions from allowing public contact with big cats.

Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to pass these bills, ending the suffering of thousands of primates and big cats across the United States who are now in the hands of people who should never be allowed to have them.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

DENR urged: Shield Romblon monkeys from trappers, lab experiments

By:  – Reporter / @JhessetEnanoINQ
 / 04:53 AM May 06, 2020

THEY BELONGTO THE FOREST Commonly known as “matsing” or “unggoy,” long-tailed macaques are a subspecies of the crab-eating macaques and are endemic to Philippine forests. —PHOTO FROM CRUELTY FREE INTERNATIONAL

MANILA, Philippines — Animal rights advocates have urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to refuse any permits seeking to trap wild long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis philippensis) in Romblon province for research and export purposes amid the reported population boom of these monkeys on the island.

The call came after reports that the DENR would consider applications for permits to capture the primates for breeding farms, which supply animals for laboratory experiments and testing.


Trapping wild primates is cruel and taking them from their habitats and social groups can cause immense suffering in animals, said the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and Action for Primates.

“One of the reasons given by the DENR for considering an application for the capture of the wild monkeys is conflict arising between people and the monkeys,” the groups said in a joint statement on Monday.

“Conflict issues, however, are usually due to human activities, such as the destruction and fragmentation of the natural habitat, forcing primates to compete with people over land and resources,” they added.

Endemic, near-threatened

Commonly known as “matsing” or “unggoy,” long-tailed macaques are a subspecies of the crab-eating macaques and are endemic to Philippine forests.

They were classified as near-threatened in the most recent assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.

In an interview, Henry Adornado, DENR director of Mimaropa region, confirmed the rising number of macaques in Romblon but said the agency had yet to estimate their total population.

Among the reasons for their increasing numbers are the absence of natural predators, such as the Philippine Eagle, and people leaving them alone in the wild.

Relocation, education

With their growing numbers, the monkeys pose a threat to banana and coconut plantation of communities, Adornado said.

But Nedim Buyukmihci, an animal rights activist and representative of Action for Primates, said there were human approaches to population control to resolve conflicts without resorting to the capture and removal of wild macaques from their natural habitats.


These include reproduction control, relocation and educating communities so that monkeys would not be encouraged to rely on humans for food.

Protected area proposed

“At a time when there is increasing awareness of the devastating consequences that human activity is having on the natural world, including nonhuman primates, it is imperative that we learn to coexist with other species rather than just eliminate them when conflicts arise,” said Buyukmihci.

Instead of seeing these animals as nuisance, a protected area for macaques should be established in Romblon, said PAWS executive director Anna Cabrera.

“We can set things right by taking immediate steps to establish a protected area for macaques and to develop eco-friendly systems within human communities to allow them to live in harmony with wildlife,” she said.

Ricardo Calderon, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau, said his office had yet to receive any applications for the capture and breeding of macaques in Romblon.

“Any application for permit will have to undergo site assessment and evaluation as part of the due diligence being required under existing rules and regulation,” Calderon told the Inquirer.


Breeding of wildlife for commercial purposes is allowed under the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act through the issuance of a wildlife farm-culture permit. Only offspring of those bred in captivity may be traded and exported.

Earlier reports cited the Philippines as among the world’s major exporters of laboratory monkeys. In 2015, however, macaque exports were suspended after an Ebola Reston virus killed 11 monkeys. This particular strain was nonfatal to humans.

In the late 1990s, these exports were similarly halted after a monkey shipped from a primate farm in Laguna province died in Texas, also of the Ebola virus. At least 49 other primates had to be put to death due to the virus. INQ

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DENR official sees revival of native monkey farming amid global virus contagion

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is looking into the population boom of an “aggressive” disease-carrying native monkey species in Banton, Romblon, following the reported jump of the ape population in the island municipality.

DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon said a team was sent by him to conduct preliminary investigation in the area and verified the report.

“We have already sent a team on the island and we verified the report that there was indeed an increase in the number of monkey population on the island,” Calderon reported.

The Philippines’s long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis philippensis) is a subspecies of the crab-eating macaque. Aside from being a potential carrier of a deadly virus such as Ebola, they are also known to be very aggressive as they tend to be protective of their troop.

Although there are still no recorded, or reported unprovoked attacks on the human population, so far, these monkeys that became highly dependent on food handouts by tourists sometimes go out to raid houses for morsels.

In Romblon, Calderon said, there are reports that they are not only raiding houses but are destroying farms—targeting small banana and cassava farms, including those planted by subsistence farmers.

With the increasing number of monkeys on the island, Calderon said the DENR is now mulling over to start issuing special permits that will allow the capture of these monkey for research and development and purposes.

“Monkeys are usually exported for purpose of scientific research to produce a cure to diseases, or vaccines, because monkeys are closely associated with humans,” he said.

In the Philippines, he said, there are at least seven monkey farms with special permits to breed native species of monkeys.

“These monkey farms suddenly stopped operation because of the reported spread of the Ebola virus disease several years back, but their permits are still active,” he said, adding that he believes that with the increasing demand for a live specimen for the conduct of scientific research, these farms would soon revive their captive breeding program.

The DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) allows farming of monkeys, recognizing their important role in scientific research to fight deadly viruses that could cause global pandemic, such as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

These farms are strictly regulated.

“They export the progeny, or the offspring of captive monkeys, to laboratories conducting scientific research in search of vaccines,” Calderon said.

He said that while the DENR-BMB also issues special permits for wild animals as pets, monkeys are discouraged because of the threat of the Ebola virus. Monkeys may be imported and exported under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES.

A signatory to CITES, the Philippines strictly adhere to its policy to prohibit the export of species on the endangered list. Native monkeys in the Philippines are considered a “least concern species,” which means they do not qualify as threatened, or near threatened.

“So far, there’s one permit application that I came across with for harvesting monkeys,” Calderon said.  Before issuing a special permit, the DENR-BMB looks into the conservation status and conduct a background investigation of the applicants, he added.

Usually, these applicants work for monkey farms whose business is to breed monkeys and sell the offspring, usually to foreign buyers, Calderon said.

Scientists Put a Human Intelligence Gene Into a Monkey. Other Scientists are Concerned.

#9 in our top science stories of 2019.

By Teal BurrellDecember 29, 2019 2:00 PM
Monkey Barcode - Shutterstock
(Credits: Macaque, Glass and Nature/Shutterstock; DNA Barcode, Zita/Shutterstock)
Scientists adding human brain genes to monkeys — it’s the kind of thing you’d see in a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But Chinese researchers have done just that, improving the short-term memories of the monkeys in a study published in March in the Chinese journal National Science Review. While some experts downplayed the effects as minor, concerns linger over where the research may lead.

The goal of the work, led by geneticist Bing Su of Kunming Institute of Zoology, was to investigate how a gene linked to brain size, MCPH1, might contribute to the evolution of the organ in humans. All primates have some variation of this gene. However, compared with other primates, our brains are larger, more advanced and slower to develop; the researchers wondered whether differences that evolved in the human version of MCPH1 might explain our more complex brains.

Su and his team injected 11 rhesus macaque embryos with a virus carrying the human version of MCPH1. The brains of the transgenic monkeys — those with  the  human  gene —  developed at a slower pace, akin to that of a human, than those in transgene-free monkeys. And by the time they were 2 to 3 years old, the transgenic monkeys performed better and answered faster on short-term memory tests involving matching colors and shapes. However, there weren’t any differences in brain size or any other behaviors.

But the results aren’t what has the scientific community buzzing. Some individuals question the ethics of inserting a human brain gene into a monkey — an action Rebecca Walker, a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina, argues could be the start of a slippery slope toward imbuing animals with humanlike intelligence. In a 2010 paper, James Sikela, a geneticist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and coauthors asked whether a humanized monkey would fit into its society, or would  live in inhumane conditions due to its altered genes.

To justify the work, Su and his co- authors suggested that it could provide insights into neurodegenerative and social disorders — but they don’t describe what those applications might be. “I don’t really see anything in the paper that would make me think that [the experiment] was necessarily a good idea,” says Walker.

Su declined Discover’s request for comment, but said in an article for China Daily, “Scientists agree that monkey models are at times irreplaceable for basic research, especially in studying human physiology, cognition and disease.” And in the research paper, the authors contend that the “relatively large phylogenetic distance (about 25 million years of divergence from humans) … alleviates ethical concerns.” (Rhesus macaques are less like humans in terms of social and cognitive capacities than primates such as chimpanzees, which are more closely related to us.) This greater  evolutionary distance suggests it would be harder to wind up with a macaque that acts like a human.

But that reasoning falls flat for Walker. “It doesn’t really matter when they became differentiated from humans on the phylogenetic tree,” she says. “They’re talking about improved short-term memory, which would be putting them sort of closer to us in terms of those cognitive abilities.” She thinks manipulating these skills makes the work ethically dubious and requires stronger justification.

“While monkeys and humans have similar genomes,” Su said in the China Daily article, “there are still tens of millions of genetic differences. Changing one gene carefully designed for research will not result in drastic change.”

Sikela agrees that such a change may be minor. Still, he wonders about the possibility of finding a gene with a large effect on cognition.

“There’s some risky elements to going down this road,” Sikela says. “One needs to think about the consequences of where this is leading and what’s the best way to study these kinds of questions.”

Walker also worries about where this work leads. “Could we enhance human brains through these methods?” she asks. While she thinks we’re nowhere close to that yet, she notes that science can advance surprisingly quickly. For instance, CRISPR — the gene-editing technique that once seemed far removed from human research — was used in China to edit the genomes of twins in 2018. (See our No. 11 story of the year, page 32.)

“It does feel worrisome to be doing this research in primates,” Walker says. “And then potentially thinking about how that could be used in humans.”

Ancient humans hunted monkeys for tens of thousands of years

Early Sri Lankans turned the bones of the monkeys and squirrels they hunted into these projectile points.


If you picture early humans dining, you likely imagine them sitting down to a barbecue of mammoth, aurochs, and giant elk meat. But in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, where our ancestors ventured about 45,000 years ago, people hunted more modest fare, primarily monkeys and tree squirrels. Then they turned the bones of these animals into projectiles to hunt more of them. The practice continued for tens of thousands of years, making this the longest known record of humans hunting other primates, archaeologists report today.

Many scientists believed such forests lacked the resources for early humans to successfully settle. Instead, our ancestors apparently quickly adapted to this and other challenging environments (such as high elevations and deserts), in part by figuring out how to reliably hunt difficult-to-catch prey.

To conduct the research, archaeologist Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (SHH) in Jena, Germany, and colleagues analyzed animal bones recovered from Sri Lanka’s Fa Hien Cave in Kalutara during excavations from 2009 and 2012. Materials and artifacts including charcoal, faunal remains, shell beads, and bone and stone tools indicate people occupied the site from about 45,000 to 4000 years ago.

The scientists analyzed almost 14,500 animal bones and teeth from four periods of occupation and found that gazelle-size mammals were the most common. Monkeys (primarily macaques and purple-faced langurs, the latter of which inhabit the tallest trees, reaching some 45 meters) and tree squirrels made up more than 70% of the identified remains, which also included otters, fish, reptiles, and birds. Fewer than 4% of the bones came from deer, pigs, and bovids, such as buffalo. Many bones bore cut marks from butchery and had been burned, signs that humans processed them for meat.

Early humans settled in this Sri Lankan cave 45,000 years ago.


The archaeologists also uncovered numerous microliths (minutely shaped stone tools), whose purpose is as yet unknown, but were likely used for hunting. In addition, they identified some three dozen finished or partially completed bone projectile points. These ancient humans were using “bones from the hunted monkeys to hunt more monkeys,” says study co-author Noel Amano, an archaeologist at SHH.

Finally, the remains reveal that the early Sri Lankans were sustainable hunters, primarily targeting adult animals, the scientists report today in Nature Communications. “They hunted these animals for nearly 40,000 years, without driving any to extinction,” Roberts says. “So they must have had sophisticated knowledge of monkey life cycles and an understanding of how to use resources wisely.”

The findings support the idea that, as humans spread across the world, they had to shift from hunting large, roaming animals like mammoth and bison to smaller prey that “could withstand a higher rate of predation,” says archaeologist Robin Dennell at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study.

These ancient humans probably already knew how to hunt more agile and elusive game, says Steve Kuhn, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. People had started to hunt small animals in Eurasia about the same time they first entered Sri Lanka, he notes, and so likely arrived with these skills.

Kuhn also cautions that the early Sri Lankans might not have been such wise resource managers; more likely the human populations were small and “didn’t make much of an impact.” They hunted more monkeys and squirrels and fewer deer or pigs, he thinks, simply because the smaller animals were likely more abundant. Like those of us who don’t have time to shop and cook, and so grab a burger, these early people may have simply hunted and dined on the animals that were most readily available.

China’s latest monkey cloning tests are considered ‘monstrous’

China’s latest monkey cloning experiment has sparked outrage and been labeled “monstrous” by animals welfare advocates.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience have cloned five monkey babies from a single donor with genes edited to cause diseases.

The Chinese scientists tinkered with a specific gene in the original donor monkey to produce the unhealthy animals which they say will help medical research.

The gene is BMAL1, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm but scientists made it inoperative using a gene-editing tool, known as CRISPR. With the gene turned off, the animals are at greater risk of developing sleeping problems, hormonal disorders and a host of diseases.

Researchers said the monkeys demonstrated increased anxiety and depression, reduced sleep time, and even “schizophrenia-like behaviors,” according to a pair of papers published by the scientists in the National Science Review.

All five macaques were born with identical genes, which include the mutation.

“Disorder of circadian rhythm could lead to many human diseases, including sleep disorders, diabetic mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, our BMAL1-knock out monkeys thus could be used to study the disease pathogenesis as well as therapeutic treatments” said Hung-Chun Chang, senior author and investigator of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in a statement.

Researchers used a cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce the five macaques, the same method they used to generate the first two cloned monkeys this time last year.

It is also the same general method used to clone Dolly the sheep more than two decades ago.

The experiment to clone the two healthy monkeys, reported in the journal Cell in January last year, also caused some apprehension among the broader scientific community.

“The genie’s out of the bottle now,” said Jose Cibelli at the time, a cloning expert at Michigan State University in the US.

Animals rights advocated have slammed the latest experiment. Dr. Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK, said: “Genetically manipulating and then cloning animals is a monstrous practice that causes animals to suffer.”

But speaking to in June, Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience and co-author of the latest papers, Dr Mu-ming Poo, defended the practice of using cloned animals for medical research.

“More cloned monkeys will soon be produced,” he said at the time. “Some of them will carry gene mutations known to cause human brain disorders, in order to generate useful monkey models for drug development and treatment.”

It’s important to note that because primates share approximately 95 percent of human genes and a number of physiological and anatomical similarities, biomedical research currently uses a large number of monkeys, sometimes up to 100,000 annually around the globe.

“This number will be greatly reduced by the use of monkeys with uniform genetic background that reduces the noise in experimental studies,” Dr. Poo said, pointing to the example of testing drug efficacy before clinical trials.

“This will greatly help the ethical use of non-human primates for biomedical purposes.”

The team behind the latest experiment reiterated that position in the statement this week, saying the institute is following strict international guidelines for animal research.

The gene-edited monkey clones come hot on the heels of a rogue Chinese scientist announcing he used CRISPR technology to create the world’s first gene-edited human babies.

The controversial doctor made headlines last November after claiming he altered human embryos resulting in the birth of genetically edited twin girls.

This story originally appeared in

Concern over rising monkey deaths in road accidents

by Renald A. Frank

Image credit : Illustrative Image

Coimbatore: The alarming rise in the number of animals, especially monkeys, getting killed in road accidents is cause for concern, say animal welfare activists.

Monkeys get killed since they stray into roads in search of food and this was easily being made available by tourists. Right from the time they are infants, monkeys get used to being fed by tourists. This made them completely dependent on human beings since they never learnt to be self-sustained in forests. This made them come onto roads and get hit by speeding vehicles. Poor visibility added to such accidents.

Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, feeding of monkeys is prohibited and can lead to a jail term extending up to three years. In spite of this, forest officials turn a blind eye to feeding of animals.

Madhur Ganesh, founder of Human Animal Society, says, “Monkeys which were created to eat plants, raw vegetables or other sources of food available inside the forests now prefer food like corn, biryani, chips and pakodas which is not good for their health. Monkeys eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables but when human beings feed them, they forget their skill of hunting.”
A research by Ashmita Sengupta from NIAS, Bengaluru says, “Monkeys have reduced intake of fruits from trees due to feeding by human beings. Monkeys are an important seed dispenser for many fruit varieties in forests”. Owing to feeding of monkeys by human beings, we are actually causing stress and disease to these mammals which also results in behavioural changes.”

Sirajuddin, co-ordinator of Wildlife Nature Conservation Trust in Coimbatore says the speed of vehicles should be fixed between 25-30 km/hr in areas close to the forest. This was to prevent animals from getting injured.

An event to promote this would take place in Coimbatore on March 3 where efforts would be made to educate people on wildlife conservation. Pamphlets would also be distributed, he added.

Though the number of animals killed in road accidents could notbe ascertained, efforts were being made by Wildlife Trust of India located in NCR region at Noida to protect animals where “we would also be able to send incidents related to animals getting hit on roads along with the exact location by downloading a form online”, he said. Monkeys which got close to humans could easily be captured or killed.

Girl found living with monkeys in Indian forest

LUCKNOW, India — Indian police are reviewing reports of missing children to try to identify a girl who was found living in a forest with a group of monkeys.

The girl, believed to be 10 to 12 years old, was unable to speak, was wearing no clothes and was emaciated when she was discovered in January and taken to a hospital in Bahraich, a town in Uttar Pradesh state in northern India.

She behaved like an animal, running on her arms and legs and eating food off the floor with her mouth, said D.K. Singh, chief medical superintendent of the government-run hospital.

After treatment, she has begun walking normally and eating with her hands.