A team of crack Japanese boffins has at last achieved one of humanity's most important scientific goals - namely, the creation of small monkeys which glow green when exposed to ultraviolet light. Unsatisfactory one-off fluorescent primates had been created previously, but the new, cutting-edge fluoro-monkeys' abilities are hereditary.
Quite apart from their glow-in-the-dark capabilities, the transgenic marmosets are also handier and more portable than ordinary experimental monkeys. At around 20cm tall, they are easily transported in a lab-coat pocket. The palmtop primates are "less expensive to handle and house" than regular lab chimps and so forth, according to Science magazine.
Japanese boffins from seven different institutions came together to create the fluoro-marmos by injecting a gene into their embryos causing them to produce green fluorescent protein (GFP) - a chemical normally found only in jellyfish. The little fellows' ability to pass this gene on to their offspring is what has scientists excited, as it will let them put other genes into such monkeys and find out more about inherited human diseases - for instance Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.
So chuffed are the scientific community with the modified jellyfish-marmosets that one is on the cover of heavyweight boffinry mag Nature, described as a "supermodel".
As ever, there are party poopers. Jarrod Bailey, an activist with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), told the BBC that "monkeys do not tell us about human disease".
In a statement, the animal-rights group added:
Regardless of how much the researchers try to force a nonhuman primate to have features of human beings, numerous, significant and inexorable species differences will ultimately negate the biomedical utility of any research done on them.
Though in fact, the boffins seem to have been endowing the marmosets with features found in jellyfish, rather than ones found in humans.
The scholarly paper by the Japanese team is published online here (subscription required). ®