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Biotech Medicine

Fluorescent Monkeys Cast Light On Human Disease 174

Posted by samzenpus
from the grape-ape-version-2.0 dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that a team of Japanese scientists has integrated a new gene for green fluorescent protein into the common marmoset, causing them to glow green under ultraviolet light, creating second-generation, glow-in-the-dark monkeys in what could be a powerful new tool in human disease research. Though primates modified to generate a glowing protein have been created before, these are the first to keep the change in their bloodlines. If a fluorescent protein gene can be introduced into the monkey genome and passed onto future generations, other genes could be too opening up a world of possibilities for medical research, such as the generation of specific monkey colonies containing genetic defects that mirror human diseases aiding efforts to cure such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. However many people are likely to find the routine use of monkeys in medical research far less acceptable than that of rodents, drawing action from animal rights activists. 'I'm worried that these steps are being taken without any overall public discussion about whether we want to go down that road. We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings,' says Dr David King, from the group Human Genetics Alert. '"Slippery slope" is a quite inadequate description of the process, because it doesn't happen passively. People push it forward.'"
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Fluorescent Monkeys Cast Light On Human Disease

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  • Oblig... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:01PM (#28117853)

    I for one welcome our glowing primate overlords?........

  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:03PM (#28117867)

    I want phosphorescent monkeys, dammit.

  • by crescente (1334029) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:05PM (#28117875)
    Biologists have been making this glow for a long time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_fluorescent_protein [wikipedia.org] But the novelty is that now you can make green offspring with no extra effort! For those with journal access to nature, the source: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v459/n7246/full/nature08090.html [nature.com]
  • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:05PM (#28117885)

    So, how long do you think it'll be before decedents of these 'somehow' hit the exotic pet trade.

  • Crunchy (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Do they taste like pickles, too?

  • by Pluvius (734915) <[pluvius3] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:08PM (#28117901) Journal

    We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings

    And eradicating genetic disease and improving humanity to the peak of its potential would be bad why, again? Here's a hint: The reason why the world of Gattaca is dystopic isn't because of genetic engineering.

    Rob

    • by 4D6963 (933028) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:26PM (#28118055)
      But.. but.. improving humanity genetically = eugenism = nazi = evil! It's inherent, you can't even screen foetuses for genetic defects without bringing dystopian technofascism into power. If science fiction warns us against it, there must be a reason!
      • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:46PM (#28118189) Homepage Journal

        But.. but.. improving humanity genetically = eugenism = nazi = evil! It's inherent, you can't even screen foetuses for genetic defects without bringing dystopian technofascism into power.

        I think you skipped the "Nazis riding dinosaurs" in there, but otherwise that's obviously exactly what would happen.

      • Its not an inherent danger. However, at humanity's present level of maturity, so to speak, it certainly could open one massive can of worms. In the short term and at the present time, it would be one bumpy road, but in the long term, in some future time period, it could do a whole lot of good.

        • by 4D6963 (933028) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @11:05PM (#28118745)

          Yeah, sure, because anyone just knows that we'll rush to make bizarre experiments on humans.

          Here's a reality check : we're not even cloning humans and we get our wads in a bunch about stem cell research on embryos.

          • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @11:57PM (#28119029)

            No ones saying we would, at least not in general. The issues to overcome would be social issues that favor or discriminate against the genetically modified/non-modified people. What do you do about perceived unfair advantage the modified might have? What about the perceived inferior non-modified people, who would more than likely be children of groups already poor? What about pockets of luddites and their children? What about the (unlikely) chance that something goes wrong with the modifications themselves? Sure, genetic engineering hasn't blown up in anyone's face yet, and much to Greenpeace's dismay, it probably never will, but modifying human populations is something that must be taken with much more prudence than crops. Its not about bizarre experiments so much as it is about potential problems, mostly social in nature. I'm not saying these problems can't be overcome, or that modifying humans is necessarily a bad thing (as I said, it could do a whole lot of good), just that I don't think we should be doing gene modifications on humans at this point in time.

          • What makes you think that someone somewhere is not cloning humans?

            It could be like that movie The Island.
            **spoiler alert**

            The clones are just replacement parts for the original people. It is an interesting idea. If clones could be made with no minds so to speak. That would be better. There is a living body but no mind/soul to speak of. Then we could be growing spare parts for people.

            • by 4D6963 (933028)
              There's already research out there involving "cloning" tissues and organs of your body. I think they can reconstruct some of what makes a bladder and transplant it on you.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Narpak (961733)
        Genetic engineering is a tool, or method, just like everything else really. It can be researched, documented, understood, and used responsibly, or it could be used irresponsibly and have unintended side effects. In my mind what many authors and futurists warns of is unchecked or unbalanced genetic engineering run rampant.

        The thing to keep in mind is that advances within this field is coming, what is or isn't possible is still subject to a great deal of speculation; but our understanding, and our ability
      • Well the idea with Nazism was that since you can't change genetics except through breeding you have to kill the inferior races and breed the good races. That of course is horrible and leads to psychopathic behavior that Nazis were so famous for.

        This on the other hand looks like a voluntary personal act of modifying one's own genetics which I think is not particularly immoral at all.

    • by DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:45PM (#28118175)

      There's also the world of... Brave New World.

      By unfortunate genetic lottery, we have people suited to manual labor, manufacturing and other undesirable jobs. In addition, we dehumanize people if they're "designed." Think about the problems we have when clothing/electronics/houses go out of style. Now think about your kids. Do you want them to "go out of style?" We'll only further objectify people.

      Sure, it sucks if you're ugly. But at least you're unique.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @10:09PM (#28118333) Journal
        Trouble is, our present "non designed" model hasn't really resulted in a utopia of loving everybody just the way they are. Rather, there is a whole lot of shoving round pegs into square holes, and vice versa. We already have (roughly) genetically defined underclasses, we already have children being subjected to high pressure parental expectation. There are, already, even phenotype fads(just look at, say, artistic depictions of ideal beauty over time).

        The design -> dehumanization argument would be a lot more compelling if we didn't already have dehumanization and disappointment. Dehumanization and success would be step up.
      • by 4D6963 (933028)
        IIT : Sci-fi fans who take what they read a bit too seriously.
      • by glwtta (532858)
        In addition, we dehumanize people if they're "designed."

        Shit, we do? I didn't even know there were "designed" people, and here I am, dehumanizing them!
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:12AM (#28119455)

        There's also the world of... Brave New World.

        Ah, TWO fictional stories. Well then it's pretty much a dead certainty.

        Wait a minute... terminator and matrix... my god, I need to stop typing and destroy my computer RIGHT NOW!

        By unfortunate genetic lottery, we have people suited to manual labor, manufacturing and other undesirable jobs. In addition, we dehumanize people if they're "designed." Think about the problems we have when clothing/electronics/houses go out of style. Now think about your kids. Do you want them to "go out of style?" We'll only further objectify people.

        "go out of style?" Exactly how? Because if we start designing our kids to have floral print skin, that would be one thing, but not having cystic fibrosis probably isn't going to go out of style ever, and I think people are going to tend to leave superficial features alone, focusing more on diseases. And maybe height, weight, and intelligence, but those also probably aren't going to go "out of style."

        Dehumanizing sounds convincing until you realize people already do that to ugly people.

      • by JuzzFunky (796384) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:23AM (#28119513)

        Modifying genetic code to remove known defects that will do nothing but cause a lifetime of suffering is hardly dehumanizing. If anything, having the ability to prevent this kind of suffering and choosing not to would be inhumane.

        Sure it sucks that you have a crippling disability and no quality of life and will probably die young and in pain, but at least you're unique.

      • Sure, it sucks if you're ugly. But at least you're unique.

        I'd rather be good looking and common then ugly and unique.

    • by dudpixel (1429789)

      This is what worries me - How many things in nature have been IMPROVED through human involvement?

      Go on, count them...I'll wait.

      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @11:39PM (#28118929) Homepage Journal

        How many things in nature have been IMPROVED through human involvement?

        Go on, count them...I'll wait.

        Ever heard of polio?

        Know why we don't worry about it much any more?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jeremi (14640)

        This is what worries me - How many things in nature have been IMPROVED through human involvement?

        Well, the food is certainly better now.... the meat is better cooked than raw, and the fruits and vegetables have been bred for centuries and now they're delicious. You should have seen the semi-edible crap that people subsisted on a few millenia ago.

      • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Thursday May 28, 2009 @01:14AM (#28119469)

        Are you joking? Do you know how many varieties of apple there are? Wild apples are barely half the size and aren't nearly as sweet. Think pears just happened? Uncultivated ones are gritty and sand-like. Ever notice how there's no seeds in your banana? Think wild ones are seedless? Corn? Not even naturally occurring. Wild wheat has a fraction of the yield of newer varieties. Look at all the ways humans have improved Brassica oleracea (hint: do you think broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts just happened?). Potatoes, carrots, oranges, nectarines, tomatoes, melons, barley, jeez, this post could go on and on, and that's just common food crops. To act like humans don't improve natural things is just bafflingly ignorant. People should really learn the history of their food sometime.

        • by colganc (581174)

          But we're ruining the planet! I watched a movie and food comes from cruel treatment of nature true story! Nature first! Humans second!

        • by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday May 28, 2009 @06:19AM (#28121153) Journal
          I do selective breeding in my garden. The joy of using plants is that I'm already on 5th generation (sweet peas) after five years.

          Wild parsnips can be turned into 'normal' parsnips after about a dozen generations.

          It just seems like the right thing to do: find a nice plant that shows all the characteristic I'm after, collect the seeds, cool, sow, rince and repeat. Maybe one day I can get one named after me.
          • That does sound pretty cool. If I had more space I'd be doing that. I've got kiwanos, cassabanana, and lichi tomato going right now that I think would be neat to work with. If I had more room I'd plant a crapload of the seeds from this generation and start selecting for flavor in kiwano, shorter time to maturity in cassabanana, and less seeds in litchi tomato.

        • by Biotech9 (704202)

          My favourite example of this is the Dutch turning carrots orange in a show of nationalism.

      • What do you mean improved? Improved from the perspective of who or what, and by what metric? What do you mean by "in nature"? Everything is "in nature".
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @10:57PM (#28118699) Journal
      I was incredibly disappointed with how Gattaca handled its genetic engineering premise.

      In essence, Gattaca passes up the chance to face a really interesting question: "What would happen in a world where science has ensured that all men are very much not created equal?" and, instead, passes off a much, much flatter sci-fi racism allegory.

      Supposedly, the protagonist suffers from a number of serious genetic defects, his heart condition being the worst. His brother, and the fellow whose identity he uses, do not. This is treated as simple fact within the context of the movie, the same way the space technology is. And yet, it has virtually no effect on the characters. The protagonist completes, without undue effort, highly rigorous physical and mental training(with a single heart palpitation to add dramatic tension). His only risk is being discovered and unjustly victimized by society; simply being let down by his body isn't an issue. By contrast, the fellow he is impersonating is impulsive, depressive, and suicidal(all traits with genetic components, but he has them and the protagonist doesn't, despite being engineered). The protagonist's brother is similarly unaffected by his supposedly superior genes.

      The movie constantly downplays, in practice, the effect of genes on phenotype(and completely ignores the potential for psychology to be affected by genetics, in favor of a fuzzy "triumph of the human spirit" subplot) while making it a major plot point. It ends up simply being the story of "perfectly good guy, oppressed just because of who he is, shows what he can do through sheer pluck" rather than the much more interesting(but considerably darker and less comfortable) story of "adequate guy, whose inescapable limitations doom him to a life of frustration and inferiority" or, even, "Bold, self-absorbed, narcissist bluffs his way onto a mission where a number of other are depending on him to do what he knows he won't be able to do".
      • I was incredibly disappointed with how Gattaca handled its genetic engineering premise.

        I am incredibly disapointed in your inability to understand Gattaca's character development premise.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Supposedly, the protagonist suffers from a number of serious genetic defects, his heart condition being the worst.

        Actually, if you listen carefully, you'll note that he is only diagnosed as having a high probability of various genetic disorders, and based merely on that chance he was ostracized from "valid" society. Since he outlives his predicted life span, it's safe to say he dodged at least some of those bullets, though he definitely has poor vision and a heart that is significantly weaker than the pers

        • by Raenex (947668)

          I appreciate the movie's message, but man was there some serious flaws in it. Like how the guy obsesses over scrubbing his skin -- like he can prevent skin cells from flaking off at work! Every day we lose millions. And how he's able to do home surgery to extend his legs, but thirty years of medical advances won't help out his heart condition.

  • by wideBlueSkies (618979) * on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:10PM (#28117921) Journal

    KHANNNNN!!!!!

  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:10PM (#28117923)

    How many of you would pay extra for a child that would fluoresce?

  • Use the monkeys as light bulbs?

  • oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:24PM (#28118039)
    Take your shining paws off me, you damn dazzling ape!
  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:35PM (#28118105)

    However many people are likely to find the routine use of monkeys in medical research far less acceptable than that of rodents, drawing action from animal rights activists.

    And once you have the attention of the animal rights activists, the harsh reality is that your research involves monkeys that fucking glow in the dark so it's not like they're easy to hide or anything.

  • by NemoinSpace (1118137) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:35PM (#28118107) Homepage Journal

    We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings," says Dr David King

    I submit we have already, (and even within one generation) passed that fork in the road. Unless you think these people are doing all this research because they favor monkeys?

  • by joebok (457904) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @09:36PM (#28118115) Homepage Journal

    ... let alone the article. Why spoil a great headline? Heck, I just like the "Fluorescent Monkeys" part.

  • But are the fluorescent monkeys beige?
  • Curiously, the internal numbering scheme used in this research is practically handing paranoia fuel to a certain class of anti-science forces on a silver platter.

    The only viable male marmoset produced by the experiment was Code named "666" [scienceblogs.com]. Are they trying to rouse the god squad?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by canajin56 (660655)
      Many asian cultures consider repeating numbers to be lucky, regardless of if the Babylonians considered them divine or not.
  • Humans are a type of primate, no? If we can make glowing monkeys, can't we make glowing humans? For one, it would solve the animal right's issues if we tested the stuff on humans (we could ask animal rights activists to volunteer). And second, I think it would be cool if we could glow under fluorescent lights.
  • by Afforess (1310263) <afforess@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @10:25PM (#28118443) Journal

    We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings

    This argument is correctly labeled as a "slippery slope" argument, but what the author fails to mention is that "slippery slope" arguments are part of a group of arguments known as logical fallacy's. [wikipedia.org] The error is that the Dr. David King equates changing monkeys to genetic engineering and then assumes that genetic engineering on other organisms, namely humans, is inevitable; since human genetic engineering is bad, then all genetic engineering MUST be bad. This is illogical.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by glwtta (532858)
      The error is that the Dr. David King equates changing monkeys to genetic engineering and then assumes that genetic engineering on other organisms, namely humans, is inevitable; since human genetic engineering is bad, then all genetic engineering MUST be bad.

      I'm sorry, but none of that makes any sense. Manipulating the genomes of monkeys to produce specific traits is, by definition, genetic engineering. Most biological research is done with an eye for treating human disease (even if the research itself
      • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

        OK, I'm ignorant and confused about the whole thing. So - when I read it - they have injected a new gene into an embryo and that genetic code was then passed on to the embryo's offspring(?) OK, so maybe (one day) we can do that to humans as well. So there's (a) a the usual ehtical arguments about whether animal experimentation is ethically justified via it's possible benifits to humans, (b) the usual ethical arguments about whether genetic modification of humans above and beyond using your good sense in cho
        • by digitrev (989335)
          Well, let's say we find a way to modify people to have an immunity to skin cancer. Clearly, passing this on to your children would be a good thing.
      • by Afforess (1310263)
        Please reread the

        Dr. David King equates

        part again. It isn't my argument, it's his. My point was that is doesn't make sense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      ...what the author fails to mention is that "slippery slope" arguments are part of a group of arguments known as logical fallacy's. [wikipedia.org]

      It's only a logical fallacy if it's presented as a logical argument. I don't see that here: I see a concern that although the thing is not bad in and of itself, it may lead to a trend that is. That's not a logical fallacy, it's a reasonable concern which arises from taking a long-term view. One could argue whether it's a valid concern, or whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks, but to cry "logical fallacy" here is just an attempt to dismiss the objection without discussing its actual m

      • by Afforess (1310263)

        but to cry "logical fallacy" here is just an attempt to dismiss the objection without discussing its actual merits.

        I'm pretty sure that's what I did, right here:

        The error is that the Dr. David King equates changing monkeys to genetic engineering and then assumes that genetic engineering on other organisms, namely humans, is inevitable; since human genetic engineering is bad, then all genetic engineering MUST be bad.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by benjamindees (441808)

      The slippery slope is not a logical fallacy in this instance, and in fact is not a fallacy in most instances in which it is used. The entire argument just isn't usually spelled out. Most people are able to fill in the blanks.

      1) Absent effective regulation, in a free-market economy, activities which are profitable will occur.
      2) Human genetic engineering is a profitable activity.
      3) Technological advances lessen the barriers to profitability of any activity.
      4) Humans and monkeys are genetically similar.
      5) Me

      • by Afforess (1310263)
        On the contrary, your second point is incorrect. As of know, all genetic engineering has to be paid for by large biomedical firms or universities. I see no small upstarts cashing in on its success. There are no profits to be made in the short or intermediate term. Also, your third point is a half-truth. While technological advances often do make profitable activities easier, they also make the competition for the same activities more fierce. This counterbalances the ease of production with the difficulties
  • by Telephone Sanitizer (989116) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @10:43PM (#28118587)

    "I'm worried that these steps are being taken without any overall public discussion about whether we want to go down that road. We may find ourselves gradually drifting towards the genetic engineering of human beings," says Dr David King, from the group Human Genetics Alert. "'Slippery slope' is a quite inadequate description of the process, because it doesn't happen passively. People push it forward."

    This research may some day influence the manipulation of the human genome, but the same reasoning would apply to the current generation of fluorescent fish and bunnies. If your concern runs that deep, you might as well ban animal husbandry.

    What bugs me about messing with primate genes is that they're already so close to us genetically that turning a few genes on or off would make them anthropomorphic analogues. In other words, we're making them men, but they lack the legal capacity, rights and protections that we take for granted.

    For those of you with refined literary tastes, yes. I'm thinking of that Heinlein story, "Jerry Was a Man."

  • 'Slippery slope' is a quite inadequate description of the process, because it doesn't happen passively. People push it forward.

    I think that the saying he's after is "letting the nose of the camel into the tent". The camel's nose poking in through the tent flaps isn't a problem in and of itself, but one still discourages it because of what will inevitably follow if one does not. It's much easier to address a camel-in-the-tent problem when it's just a nose, not the whole camel. This is similar to "nip it in the bud" (which is frequently mangled into "nip it in the butt" -- the dog's approach to discouraging a postman).

  • Flashing will totally take on a whole new meaning soon...

    And /. will be pleased.

  • "Marmoset there'll be days like this
    There'll be days like this, my marmoset"

  • Some people do anything to get glowing reviews..

  • You had me at "Flourescent Monkeys".
  • Fluorescent Monkeys Cast Light On Human Disease

    You can say that again, what kind of sick bastards would curse a monkey with eyelids that make it harder to sleep when they're closed ?

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