These are the first monkeys cloned using the "Dolly the sheep" method

Zhong Zhong peeks around a stuffed toy. (Credit Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo  Chinese Academy of Sciences

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the products of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the technique used to create the cloned sheep Dolly over 20 years ago. That brings science an important step closer to being able to do the same with humans.

The scientists say they followed strict worldwide guidelines for animal research, set by the US National Institutes of Health.

A Shanghai study group of the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced their achievement in the United States science journal Cell published on Wednesday.

This is very significant because what works for monkeys generally works for humans as well.

China, in its aggressive bid to become the leader in science and technological innovation, have resurfaced with another groundbreaking creation - the cloning of monkeys in methods similar to the first cloned animal by scientists in Scotland in 1996 - Dolly the sheep.

They're not the first primates ever to be cloned - that honour goes to Tetra, a rhesus monkey cloned in 1999 in OR using the embryo-splitting method.

The SCNT technique consists of transferring the cell's nucleus from one animal's cell into another's egg with its nucleus removed.

The process under which the two monkeys were born is known as a somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

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Although the successful fertilization and birth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua is a milestone in the biological sciences, the work came with a cost.

This technically isn't the first time we've created a monkey clone.

"If the subjects have different genetic backgrounds, the results from the experimental and control groups will not be very convincing", explained Sun Qiang, a researcher at SIBS and leader of the clone team. They are called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, deriving from the word zhonghua, which basically means "Chinese".

The monkeys were cloned using a technique that swaps out the nucleus of an egg cell for the nucleus of a cell from the animal that scientists wish to clone.

Cloning comes with a slew of major ethical considerations, from whether the cloned animals are treated humanely during research to whether we should be cloning animals at all. "There was much failure before we found a way to successfully clone a monkey".

A rhesus monkey called Tetra was the first primate to be cloned, in 1999, but that procedure - embryo splitting - was a simpler method than SCNT.

The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics warned the research "opens the door" to human cloning. "There's no intention to apply this method to humans", study's coauthor Mu-Ming Poo told to National Geographic. Unlike embryonic cells, these cells can be grown in the lab - and that allows researchers to create many clones, as well as genetically engineer the cells in a petri dish more easily. It has been used to clone 23 species from rodeo bulls to polo ponies and pet cats.

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