In January, the journal Cell published a remarkable paper by researchers in China: Cloning of Macaque Monkeys by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.
For the first time, researchers had used the cloning technique that produced Dolly the sheep to create healthy monkeys. Co-author Dr. Muming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai declared that “the barrier of cloning primate species is now overcome,” as the paper detailed the research of him and his colleagues that resulted in the successful creation of two macaques.
The news of the female baby monkeys – Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua – prompted a flood of news articles, tweets and blog posts, which were tracked by Plum Analytics, Elsevier’s altmetrics solution embedded into platforms such as Cell.com, ScienceDirect and Scopus to give researchers and research instituions a clearer view on the impact their research is having. Here’s what the world was saying about the arrival of the young macaques.
On social media, the news was met with amazement:
Trying to work out how many tweets about Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua is TOO many tweets from the work account...anyway, here's another one from me. pic.twitter.com/6Du0ixhVsv— Amelia Cox (@AmeliaCoxAC) 24 January 2018
Tracking Macaque cloning in the media
PlumX Metrics provide insights into the ways people interact with individual pieces of research output (articles, conference proceedings, book chapters and more) in an online environment. Examples include when research is mentioned in the news or is tweeted about. Collectively known as PlumX Metrics, these metrics are divided into five categories to help make sense of the huge amounts of data involved and to enable analysis by comparing like with like. See how PlumX tracks mentions of this research across social media, blogs and news media.
The revelation also generated a huge amount of press coverage; the story was featured in dozens of media outlets, including Ars Technica, The Guardian, BBC News Asia, National Geographic and The New York Times.
It also prompted deeper debates around the ethics and possibilities around cloning. Writing in the Guardian, Philip Ball asked whether we should be afraid of human cloning or whether many of the arguments against it are baseless. The Independent, meanwhile, reported on Dr. Mu-ming Poo’s statement to Chinese news outlet Xinhua that their interest in cloning primates came from a strictly medical perspective and there were no plans to clone humans, and that such a step would be prohibited by social ethics.
Instead, the hope for this breakthrough is that genetically identical primates could prove a valuable resource in treating human diseases and will provide a way to overcome challenges in trying to mimic complex diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s in other mammals. The New Scientist highlighted the potential benefits of this, which it noted will require many more clones. Salon declared that the the breakthrough marked China out as a new leader in cloning biotech.
As CEO of Cell Press, Dr. Emilie Marcus commented: “Cell is privileged to have the opportunity to publish this important work. It has taken scientists from around the world over 20 years to reach this technical milestone, which has the potential to revolutionize animal research and help the development of new therapies for human disease. We are happy to see such a high quality of submissions come from China, and I encourage everyone to read the paper.”