Monkeying with the Genes

On October 2, 2000 a new baby entered the world. However, this was not an ordinary baby conceived in the ordinary manner.

The baby is named ANDi (for "inserted DNA" spelled in reverse). ANDi is a rhesus monkey and is the first genetically modified non-human primate.

ANDi is genetically modified or transgenic in that he carries an additional gene from another organism. Scientists at the Oregon Health Sciences University inserted a gene that codes for green fluorescent protein (GFP) that was isolated from a glowing jellyfish. The gene will glow green if present in sufficient quantities. Scientists were able to confirm the success of the gene insertion through DNA testing.

The production of a transgenic organism is very time consuming and subject to many trials. Researchers used a virus to carry the GFP gene to an unfertilized rhesus monkey egg. When the virus binds to the egg's surface, the gene is released and incorporates itself into the chromosomes in the egg's nucleus. These eggs are then fertilized and implanted into surrogate mothers.

In this particular project, 224 eggs were inserted with the gene. Fertilized eggs yielded 40 embryos that led to 5 pregnancies. Of these 5, only 3 resulted in live births and ANDi was the only baby monkey in which the GFP gene had been successfully incorporated.

Why do this type of research? What are the implications? It is hoped that transgenic monkeys and other transgenic organisms will prove to be a significant research tool that will accelerate the development of vaccines for human disease, that will accelerate the discovery of cures for human disease through molecular medicine and that will facilitate the development of new therapies for human disorders.