Inscrutable Chinese Monkeys

What are the Chinese really up to when outfitting “transgenic” monkeys with human genes?

Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence. 

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort. 

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

Researchers say they’re studying brain evolution in humans, using genetically similar monkeys in part to isolate that fraction of our otherwise shared genome that makes us human.

Clearly the Chinese are funding research like this to develop techniques for genetic enhancement of intelligence.

Su, a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, specializes in searching for signs of “Darwinian selection”—that is, genes that have been spreading because they’re successful. His quest has spanned such topics as Himalayan yaks’ adaptation to high altitude and the evolution of human skin color in response to cold winters.  

The biggest riddle of all, though, is intelligence. What we know is that our humanlike ancestors’ brains rapidly grew in size and power. To find the genes that caused the change, scientists have sought out differences between humans and chimpanzees, whose genes are about 98% similar to ours. The objective, says, Sikela, was to locate “the jewels of our genome”—that is, the DNA that makes us uniquely human.

The Chinese want to understand and manipulate the genetic processes behind human intelligence. For them the evolutionary course of their race is too important to be left to chance.

If this chills you, recall Stalin wanted to breed Gorilla-Human hybrid warriors

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia’s top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior. 

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”

“…to eat things that would make a billy goat puke…”

Alas, robots render the Human-Ape super soldier obsolete before he’s out of the lab. But the Chinese are working hard to ensure the superiority of their robots, and everything else, by ensuring the superiority of their intelligence.

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