Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Monkeys Are Used For New Autism Research – A Comparison Between Different Press Release

A new research, published in Nature on Monday, 25 January 2016, using genetically modified monkeys to mimic autism-like behaviors is conducted in search for possible therapies for autistic human beings. The scientists at the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai inject an autism-related humane gene, MECP2, which leads to an autism-like disorder called MECP2 duplication syndrome, into the eggs of female monkeys.


The New York Times, instead of focusing on the new study itself, pays much attention to the usage of monkeys. It has drawn many outside comments from people, who are not involved in the research itself, to evaluate if the monkeys used are suitable for designated purpose of the research as well as if the monkeys are used properly as a model.

According to the article, previous research in this field, instead of using monkeys,  prefer using mice for many reasons, such as the lower price and easier accessibility of mice. Meanwhile, monkeys also have much more problems with animal right advocates than mice do. However, mice have significant disadvantages, too. First, mice are far more simple model for this kind of research, and their life spans are too short for observing the developments along the way. Primates, like monkeys, are definitely a better model in this case.

Dr. Huda Zoghbi, the professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine “who helped discover that mutated forms of MECP2 cause Rett Syndrome, a type of autism that affects mostly girls,” questioned if the behaviors, such as circling the cages, of those genetically modified monkeys used in the experiment are, indeed, similar to repetitive behavior appearing in the autistics since some crucial symptoms of MECP2 duplication syndrome have not been observed in those monkeys.

Scientific American first traces back to the history of the study, but it still mentions the credibility of using monkeys as a model in this research later by using the comment of Alysson Muotri, a researcher studying “stem cells, autism and Rett’s syndrome” at UCSD. Scientific American used Dr. Zoghbi’s comments as well and it wrote them in almost the same way as The New York Times did.

Scientific American, interestingly, also mentions another part of the research that the scientists are working with a hospital  at the same time trying “to identify the autism-linked genes that are most common in the Chinese population.” It then pointed out that “if non-human primates prove to be a useful model for psychiatric disorders, China and other countries that are investing heavily in research on monkeys, such as Japan, could gain an edge in brain research” since such non-human primates are “more expensive and controversial” in the US. While The New York Times only addressed that the price of monkeys are higher in the US as suggested by “Dr. Anthony Chan, whose research involves transgenic Huntington’s disease monkeys at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta,” Scientific American pays attention to the future of research in the field; and therefore, provides its readers a totally different as well as broadened view on the problem.

The News & Comment section of the Nature has the same article as the Scientific American does and they uses the same video as well. When I saw the author information at the bottom of the Scientific American website that the personDavid Cyranoski, works for Nature magazine, people might not expect Nature to have the exactly same article at all since they are two independent media. Readers might hope to see another point of view by Nature, but it turns out that the same author attribute to two websites, or the Scientific American simply chose to use David Cyranoski’s work instead of creating its own piece.

The following video is used by both the Scientific American and the News & Comment section of the Nature.





1 Comment

  1. sending you comments by email. nice roundup of articles on this topic.

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