WASHINGTON Japanese researchers have genetically engineered monkeys whose hair roots, skin and blood glow green under a special light, and who have passed on their traits to their offspring, the first time this has been achieved in a primate.
They spliced a jellyfish gene into common marmosets, and said on Wednesday they hope to use their colony of glowing animals to study human Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
Erika Sasaki and Hideyuki Okano of the Keio University School of Medicine in Japan used a virus to carry the gene for green fluorescent protein into monkey embryos, which were implanted into a female monkey, and four out of five were born with the gene throughout their bodies.
One fathered a healthy baby that also carried the new genes, they reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
"The birth of this transgenic marmoset baby is undoubtedly a milestone," stem cell expert Dr. Gerald Schatten, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of Oregon Health and Sciences University, wrote in a commentary in Nature.
"Transgenic marmosets are potentially useful models for research into infectious diseases, immunology and neurological disorders, for example," they wrote.
"I am most interested in Parkinson's disease and ALS," Okano told reporters in a telephone briefing. Both are incurable nerve diseases. But Okano said animals could be created to study a range of diseases.
The researchers used marmosets because they reproduce quickly, reaching sexual maturity in about a year.
"At the moment we use mice with mutant genes that are associated with Parkinson's to search for new drugs to treat the condition," Dr. Kieran Breen, director of Research and Development at Britain's Parkinson's Disease Society, said in a statement.
"Because non-human primates are much closer to humans than mice genetically, the successful creation of transgenic marmosets means that we will have a new animal model to work with."
Last year, the discoverers of the green fluorescent protein won the Nobel Prize in chemistry -- Japanese-born Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Martin Chalfie of Columbia University in New York and Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego.
The protein glows under blue and ultraviolet light, allowing researchers to illuminate tumor cells, trace toxins and to monitor genes as they turn on and off.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)