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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Japan, a monkey that was genetically altered to glow green has fathered a baby monkey that also glows green - at least under ultraviolet light. We're serious here. A report on this research is in the journal Nature, and it is exciting scientists. It means they're a step closer to being able to make genetically engineered monkeys for help in studying human diseases.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Now, a team of Japanese scientists says it has genetically altered monkeys and then bred them to produce even more monkeys with the extra gene.

Hideyuki Okano of Keio University says his team used a virus to carry a gene for a green glowing protein into 80 marmoset embryos.

Mr. HIDEYUKI OKANO (Keio University): When these embryos are returned to the uterus from the surrogate mother marmoset, the pregnancy was established.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Five babies were born. Four had the gene throughout their bodies, and when they reproduced, they passed the gene to the next generation.

The glowing gene doesn't do anything. It just shows an added gene can be inherited, and that's important because researchers have never achieved this with monkeys before. Now, it should be easier to generate groups of monkeys with genes for diseases like Parkinson's.

Gerald Schatten at the University of Pittsburgh was part of a team that made the first genetically-altered primate about a decade ago - a rhesus monkey named ANDi. But he says ANDi has never been interested in mating.

Mr. GERALD SCHATTEN (Director, Pittsburgh Development Center; University of Pittsburgh): You know, he sees the females as nice friends.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Another group has made monkeys with the Huntington's disease gene but they haven't reproduced either. Schatten called the work in Japan a stunning milestone in the development of monkey models of human disease.

Mr. SCHATTEN: It suggests that the non-human primate world might be able to follow in the footsteps or maybe the paw prints of the mouse world.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Schatten says some people may fear this will increase the numbers of monkeys used in medical research, but he thinks it may do the opposite. If it allows scientists to work with fewer monkeys that more precisely mimic human disease.

Another concern that's often raised is whether similar genetic techniques could be used on human embryos to make designer babies. Schatten says scientists generally see that as a line they won't cross.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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