In China, researchers have created genetically modified monkeys that develop autism-like symptoms. This controversial study was recently published in the journal Nature. The researchers used gene editing techniques to insert the human gene MECP2 into the monkey genome. Mutations in the MECP2 gene, or multiple copies of the gene, are linked to the development of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in humans.
The aim of the researchers was to test whether these monkeys would show symptoms associated with autism. They also wanted to investigate whether the monkeys would pass on the gene to their offspring. This study was an attempt to create an appropriate animal model of ASD, which is very difficult. Previous animal studies were mainly in rodents. Monkeys, however, could provide more insight into autism, as they are more closely related to humans.
The results of the study showed that the monkeys indeed showed some autism-like behaviours. For instance, they repetitively moved in circles, were more anxious, and had reduced social interactions. There was no difference in the cognitive functioning of the monkeys compared to the control group. The researchers also observed that the human copies of the MECP2 gene were present in the offspring of the monkeys.
Although the research is impressive, it is not certain if these types of studies will provide more information about autism in humans. There are many differences between the animal model and ASD in humans. Also, the cause of this condition is still not fully understood. Studying these monkeys, however, might help in our understanding and could give information about the potential beneficial effects of new drugs for human use.