A new study into the unique evolution of human intelligence has raised ethical concerns after Chinese scientists implanted human brain genes into monkeys to boost their development. Researchers inserted human versions of MCPH1, a gene that scientists believe plays a role in the development of the human brain, into 11 rhesus monkeys.
They found the monkeys' brains -- like those of humans -- took longer to develop, and the animals performed better in tests of short-term memory as well as reaction time compared to wild monkeys.However, the monkeys did not grow bigger brains than the control group.The test, the latest in a series of biomedical experiments in China to have fuelled medical ethics debates, has already drawn ethical concerns, and comparisons with dystopian sci-fi 'Planet of the Apes'.
It was conducted by researchers at the Kunming Institute of Zoology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, working with US researchers at the University of North Carolina.The study was published last month in Beijing-based journal National Science Review.“Our findings demonstrated that transgenic nonhuman primates (excluding ape species) have the potential to provide important -- and potentially unique -- insights into basic questions of what actually makes human unique,” the authors wrote.
The monkeys underwent memory tests requiring them to remember colours and shapes on a screen, and were subjected to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.Only five of the monkeys survived into the testing stage.The authors said the rhesus monkey, though genetically closer to humans than rodents, is still distant enough to alleviate ethical concerns. However, some questioned the ethics of the experiment.“You just go to the 'Planet of the Apes' immediately in the popular imagination,' said Jacqueline Glover, a University of Colorado bioethicist.
“To humanise them is to cause harm. Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can't have a meaningful life in any context,” she told Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) Technology Review.Larry Baum, a researcher at Hong Kong University's Centre for Genomic Sciences, downplayed sci-fi comparisons.
“The genome of rhesus monkeys differs from ours by a few percent. That's millions of individual DNA bases differing between humans and monkeys,” he said.This study changed a few of those in just one of about 20,000 genes. You can decide for yourself whether there is anything to worry about.”Baum added that the study supported the theory that 'slower maturity of brain cells might be a factor in improving intelligence during human evolution.'
In January, Chinese scientists unveiled five macaques cloned from a single animal that was genetically engineered to have a sleep disorder, which all developed signs of mental problems including depression, anxiety and behaviours linked to schizophrenia.
They said the study was intended to aid research into human psychological problems.And last year, Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the scientific community after revealing that he had successfully gene-edited twin girls born in November to prevent them from contracting Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV).
Meanwhile, hard work really does pay off say scientists who found that perseverance leads to better grades and higher achievement in school. Being passionate is not enough to ensure academic success say researchers, who identified 'grit' as a key to success. This is defined as effort in pursuing long-term goals, and the determination to continue one’s efforts in spite of adversity. Experts think that the finding could help create new training to help children develop the skill and help ensure their future successes. Experts from the Academy of Finland studied more than 2,000 students from Helsinki.
They were followed through their academic career from age 12-16, which is from sixth grade until the end of ninth grade in local school years.
Researchers found that the factor that best predicts grit was commitment to goals, with previous academic achievement playing no role in developing the skill. The full report was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, who led on the study, said: “Grit means that a young person really invests in his or her studies and does not give up easily.”
“A key element of grit is high persistence in the face of difficulties and setbacks.” “The essential finding is that these factors together are the key to success and well-being. “Mere purpose without grit does not lead to anything, but grit needs a purpose.“Our study shows the power of grit. The results persist even if we control for personality traits, such as conscientiousness and academic persistence.”
Professor Salmela-Aro also thinks it is important to develop new interventions, practices and trials to enhance grit in children and adolescents.She added: “Young people should see the meaning of everyday school work as part of life in a broader context and establish achievable goals for themselves. “School must also serve as a place where it is safe to fail and learn to cope with setbacks. “One must not be discouraged by setbacks, but draw strength and new energy from them!”
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