Kawasaki, Japan - For the first time ever, scientists have succeeded in adding to a monkey a gene which was then inherited by its offspring.
The gene used made the marmosets' feet glow green under ultraviolet light. The Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) gene was originally found in jellyfish, and is frequently used as a marker.
The scientists at the Central Institute for Experimental Animals in Kawasaki say the result means that colonies of trangenic monkeys can now be produced by breeding, rather than by engineering each individual animal. By using the same techniques with disease-causing genes, it will thus make it easier to produce animals with versions of human diseases for medical research.
While it has been possible for some time to create colonies of transgenic mice, they are unisuitable for research into diseases such as Alzheimer's as their brains are simply too small to scan at high resolution.
The team used the glow-in-the-dark gene because it made it easy to see where the gene was present. It was inserted into a virus which was injected into marmoset embryos. All five marmosets born as a result inherited the gene. However, only genes of a certain size can be carried by such retroviruses, limiting the diseases which can be studied.
While medical researchers are hailing the result as a breakthough, it is already causing concern. David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, said: "There must be a global ban on human genetic modification in order to prevent a new eugenics. If we can achieve that, then scientists will be free to do genuine medical research, safe in the knowledge that their work will not lead to designer babies."
And Michelle Thew, cheif executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, commented: "The technique used in this research not only inflicts great suffering, it is also wasteful and inefficient and will result in huge numbers of monkeys being used." She added: "Instead of inflicing great suffering and distress on highly sentient species such as marmosets, the research industry should be investing its substantial intellect, ingenuity and resources into utilizing and developing further the myriad of human-specific, cutting edge and more humane techniques to fight human diseases."
The research is published in Nature.