Sorts of Sea-Monkeys

Jellyfish genes were not long ago put into monkey embryos, reported the scientists who did so, of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center at Oregon Health Sciences University in Beaverton. They did not do this for any mad scientist-type reasons, but just to help find out more about human genetic diseases. The January 2000 edition of Molecular Human Reproduction published their study, entitled "Foreign DNA transmission by ICSI: injection of spermatozoa bound with exogenous DNA results in embryonic GFP expression and live Rhesus monkey births."

The jellyfish gene, which in this instance they stuck to the outside of rhesus monkey sperm, tells cells to construct a green fluorescent protein (GFP) that is easy to track, especially as regards transference into a target embryo. (Even frogs have been used for this, starting in 1978 in California, because their embryos are large and develop outside the body.) Under some types of illumination, the cells give off a green glow.

Of the seven monkey embryos that took up the jellyfish gene, only one resulted in a live monkey. (There had been stillborn twins.) The surviving one was a healthy and normal rhesus macaque named George.

As of late December, when George was six months old, it was inconclusive whether any of his cells carried the jellyfish gene.

In an only slightly related development, this time regarding not sea-creature-affected primates but "Sea-Monkeys," a Greek parliament member named Maria Damanaki recently demanded that the Development Ministry inquire into their biology -- since it was wondered whether they were the product of genetic modification or not. Sea-Monkeys, colonies of an entirely unmodified type of brine shrimp which have long been popular as pets in the U.S., were only recently introduced into Greece, where they were marketed as "Thalasopsihoules" ("Little Sea Souls").

The Ministry was expected to give a report on January 24, 2000.

Sources: ABCNEWS.com, 12/23/99 and 1/21/00; Molecular Human Reproduction, Volume 6, Number 1, January 2000 (Abstract); also Reuters, 2/26/98