MONKEY AUTISM?

This may seem like a laughable title, but hear me out on this one. There has been a study by a doctor in Beijing, China that a three year old monkey has “a mutation in SHANK3, a top gene in Autism.” According to the article, the 3 year old monkey keeps to itself and spends its days circling its cage. Is the circling a sign of self stimulation or is he just bored?  According to the article, “The monkey lacks SHANK3 genes in only some of its cells, and yet shows signs reminiscent of Autism…including social disinterest and repetitive behavior.” The article goes on to say that while drugs have been tried on mice, they might try the same drug on this monkey, since they share more DNA with humans than mice. In the article, it says that researchers have “engineered 14 lines of mice with the SHANK3 mutation, but none of them reliably replicate the behaviors seen in people with Autism.”

It’s kind of funny to think of monkeys as being Autistic, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I mean, they are smart, they can act silly, wild and downright nuts, and they poop in their own hands and throw it…and sometimes eat it. I have seen this happen. Now if crapping in your hand and throwing it isn’t a weird sign that something’s up or “wrong” I don’t know what is. According to Yong Zhang, a professor of genetics and developmental biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, “Our main goal is to test and validate drugs. If a drug works in monkeys, it would be a good argument to try it in humans.” This, in my opinion, is a valid argument but what if something happens with humans that does not necessarily happen with the chimp counterparts? Like an allergic reaction?

In the article, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues “hope to use their monkey to breed more animals with the mutation, allowing for more controlled experiments. So far, they have been able to show that two weeks of treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine, which is also prescribed for some forms of anxiety, eases some of the monkey’s unusual behaviors.” This kind of is personal to me because yours truly is on fluoxetine. To an extent it helps me but I can still act kooky from time to time, even on the meds. Maybe that’s just “human” nature to act that way or maybe it’s an Autism thing. I don’t know.

The team in Beijing “used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to snip out a portion of SHANK3 in single-cell monkey embryos. Last year, they reported that this technique yielded three monkeys from 116 embryos implanted into 37 surrogate mothers; two of the monkeys died before or at birth. The third monkey was 26 months old — the equivalent of human childhood — when the researchers wrote up their results. Now approaching sexual maturity, the monkey is thriving, Zhang says, but its unique behaviors prevent it from forming attachments with peers. For example, the mutant monkey did not vocalize until 18 months of age, whereas three control monkeys did so immediately after birth.”

I think it’s kind of funny, but maybe borderline offensive to call it “the mutant monkey”. That sounds like something from X-Men or Marvel Comics. (By the way, RIP Stan Lee). Apparently, in one study, the “odd man out” monkey–the one with the mutated genes–was recorded on video climbing up the wall of its cage, across the roof of the enclosure, and down the other side, over and over. The other monkeys did a variety of things.

Whether this monkey is just a “freak of nature” or legitimately Autistic, I don’t know. But it seems to me to be the latter. But again…it’s just one monkey. One monkey cannot speak for the whole study, just as no one human can speak for the whole Autism community. (Sorry, Temple Grandin.) Am I interested in where this is headed? Yes. Do I want to take another drug to alleviate my weirdness? For the most part, no. I know I have some issues I need to work on, but 99% of me is just personality. And why would I want to change that?

I would love to hear if any other monkeys have this genetic mutation or if it’s a one-off thing. Odds are, there are others like this one. If that’s the case…who knows? Maybe they will form AMA…Autistic Monkeys Anonymous, or at least get together and be anti-social together. I think it is a definite possibility that chimps can have social challenges, seeing how closely they resemble human beings genetically. But I want to hear from you guys. What do you think of this research and where it is potentially headed? Let me know and as always, feel free to comment. Thanks!

-Tom

Author: AuTom Spectrum Blog

I have Autism and am a self-advocate and public speaker. On the side I do stand-up comedy. I live in Baltimore County and have an AMAZING girlfriend

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