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Chimeric macaques give new meaning to phrase, 'I'll be a monkey's uncle'

Scientists have created baby rhesus macaques with cells from genomes of as many of six different monkeys, giving new insight into the capabilities of stem cells. 

Roku and Hex, two of the world's first chimeric primates, were created by mixing cells from six individuals.

OHSU Photos

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They look like ordinary baby rhesus macaques, but Hex, Roku and Chimero are the world's first chimeric monkeys, each with cells from the genomes of as many as six rhesus monkeys.

Until now research on so-called chimeric animals, or those that have cells with different genomes, has been limited to mice; a recent procedure produced mice using cells from two dads.

The researchers turned to monkeys for more insight into the capabilities of embryonic stem cells. Most experiments on stem cell therapies are based on mice, and the researchers wanted to understand whether primate embryonic stem cells respond the same way as those of mice do.

To create the chimeric monkeys, researchers essentially glued together cells from individual rhesus monkey embryos and then implanting these mixed embryos into mama monkeys.

The key was mixing cells from very early-stage embryos, or blastocysts, that consisted of just two to four cells – each one of the cells still totipotent, capable of transforming into a whole animal as well as the placenta and other life-sustaining tissues. (This is in contrast to pluripotent stem cells, which can differentiate into any tissue type in the body, but not certain embryonic tissues or entire organisms.)

"The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs," said Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. "The possibilities for science are enormous." [Images of the Chimeric Monkeys]

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