This article is part of our series of occasional long reading Zoom Out, where authors explore key ideas in science and technology in the broader context of society and humanity.
Scientists have many tools to study, manipulate and copy genes.
Now researchers from the Institute of Neurosciences in Shanghai, China, have combined techniques to produce a first world: edited gene, cloned monkeys (Macaca fascicularis).
Qiang Sun, senior researcher at the project and director of the ION Non-Human Primate Research Fund explains:
We believe that this method of cloning monkeys edited by genes could be used to generate a variety of monkeys models for genes-based diseases, including many brain diseases, as well as immune and metabolic disorders and cancer.
It seems a good idea at its nominal value: the cure of human diseases is something that most of us consider to be a priority. But here are some complex ethical problems.
First, there is the current question of how we must decide which animals should be used for the search.
Secondly, cloning itself presents some unique problems around the commercialization of research animals.
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Taking genetics out of the equation
Science in these two studies involved the reduction of a gene involved in the regulation of the sleep / wake cycle. Then, an embryo edited (copied) was cloned to produce five live-born monkeys. The five monkeys are essentially genetically identical, and all are missing this gene.
Gene elimination created multiple effects on monkeys edited, such as decreased sleep time, increased nighttime motion, blood hormone levels, anxiety and increased depression and some behaviors similar to schizophrenia.
A statement from the Institute of Neuroscience states that this research is an important first step towards the production of "genetically modified monochrome monkeys monkeys with a uniform genetic background" for biomedical research.
The underlying motivation of this type of approach is that the more the genetically identical subjects are investigated, the better any science that is used as subjects may be. When comparing two possible results of an experiment, comparing the effect of a new drug versus a non-active placebo for treating anxiety, for example, allows researchers to eliminate the effects Complicators of the variation of the natural gene of the results of the study.
Not being human
Animal testing and research involves people who do things to animals that would not allow them to human subjects.
The Declaration of the Helsinki Medical Association of the World indicates that, in the investigation of human subjects, the interests of the research subject must be considered paramount. No amount of possible social benefit should exceed the consideration that we give for the consent and welfare of human subjects.
Obviously, this prevents any type of research being carried out, because although the results may be beneficial for humanity in general, some experiments would be detrimental to the topic of research.
The solution to this problem has been to change this search for animals, since many believe that animals have a lower moral level than human beings.
Thus, animals are used as a proxy to try to assess what would happen to a human subject exposed to the same environment or condition.
Ideally, the animal needs to be close to humans in the relevant health aspects that are being tested. Otherwise, it is probable that the results do not tell us anything useful from a human perspective.
However, the closer to the human being the subject has a biological meaning, the animal is likely to have a higher moral status (perhaps even the same moral status as humans).
This is because it is often considered that the moral state is based on the capabilities that it has something, instead of its genetics. They have suggested several different features like the root of the moral state, such as sensitivity, consciousness, personality, rationality and reasoning in the higher order. The closer an animal approaches us, the more likely it is that we also share these features with us.
Therefore, better than a human biology model is an animal, the more controversial and ethically problematic it will be to use them in the investigation, especially in the search that is of a harmful or destructive nature.
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High moral status
Primates are closer to us than other species with regard to their capabilities. Even if we do not claim that all primates have the same moral status as human beings, it seems clear that if an animal has moral status, primates would be highly positioned on the list. Legislation and research practices have grown to reflect this.
Some countries – such as the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and Austria – have legislation that recognizes animals of a high moral level (for example, the great apes, such as orangutans and chimpanzees) 39; they use as subjects of research. This has been caused by the work of organizations such as the Great Ape Project and the Human Rights Project.
In spite of this, many non-human primates are still used in research, approximately 75,000 in the United States in 2017, for example, most of whom are raised in captivity for this purpose.
Macacos published and cloned in these new roles are an example of a primate that still uses a research model to explore human health.
Cloning is different from reproduction
Cloning introduces additional ethical problems for the search of non-human primates.
There are two ways that cloning is different from captive reproduction in terms of ethics.
First, the cloning process itself introduces damages. For every living birth there are often several unsuccessful attempts to create, implement and implement a clone.
A report suggests that to create the five cloned macaques in this first case in the world, the team began with 325 embryos cloned edited by gene, which implanted in 65 surrogate monkeys, a process that cost about $ 500,000 . I suspect these costs will be reduced as the technique used is refined.
The second issue has to do with commodification, the practice of taking something and making it "property."
One more thing than a being
The commercialization is important psychologically, since it helps with the release that allows us to abuse and use it badly. If something is an object more than a subject, a "thing" instead of a "being", it is easier to discount its well-being.
Commodities do not have any property of their own; They are things we use and discard at will.
Of course, research animals are already owned. The vast majority are raised in captivity, and many of these animals are commercially created for their search.
However, cloning for research purposes could increase the commercialization of these animals while still marketing their production. When techniques are used to create animals with specific harmful features to improve their usefulness as a test subject, this inherently increases the vision of these animals as only available objects.
Since we recognize that primates often have a high moral level, it is likely that commodification will lead to inadequate treatment of these creatures.
Some controversial cases – as this relatively recent investigation that tests the effects of exposure to diesel smoke in monkeys and humans – provide a disturbing window to what can happen when creatures are treated simply as a means to an end a scientist who does not like beings in himself right.
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On a slippery slope
Commodifying creatures close to us in a moral situation could lead to a slippery slope. A word that is commonly used in terms of commodification in the human context is "dehumanizing."
Once we are accustomed to treating these creatures as merchandise, something that should only be used, destroy and reject if necessary for scientific quality, it may also be easier to treat other human beings, 39; this way.