China just cloned a bunch of monkeys to have these disorders

chinese experiments on monkeys circadian rhythm disorders
© STR/AFP/Getty Images

The scientists say this could be a breakthrough for humans with sleep problems, but I'm not so sure.

In case you were waiting for scientists to clone monkeys to have weird disorders, wait no more. The time is nigh. Chinese scientists just cloned a bunch of monkeys. They also genetically modified their genes, giving the monkeys circadian rhythm disorders on purpose.

Circadian rhythms are basically your body's inner clocks. They tell your body when to wake, sleep, eat and do a billion other things. Every cell has its own circadian rhythms; plant cells have them too.

When you mess with circadian rhythms, organisms end up with problems. The scientists found that the cloned monkeys developed problems like reduced sleep, more night movement, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.

There's a lot to process here. Firstly, I feel bad for these monkeys.

“If I were on an ethics review committee, I would be very hesitant to approve [this research] because of the incredible amount of harm to the animals,” explained Carolyn Neuhaus, a bioethicist. “I would expect the scientists who are proposing this research to have very good responses to very hard questions about their methods and the expected benefits of their research.”

Supposedly, this research could help people understand and fix human circadian rhythm disorders. Though honestly, I think they're looking at circadian rhythms all wrong.

People naturally have different circadian rhythms, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. You can naturally wake up early or late and be perfectly healthy. The problem is when schools and jobs demand everybody pretend they're all on the same circadian rhythm, one that insists everyone fall asleep around 11 p.m. and wake up around 7 a.m. Nevermind that teenagers naturally fall asleep later, or that children tend to wake up early.

Despite the vast research on circadian rhythms, many people insist that teenagers should wake up early for school, failing to realize that circadian rhythms are genetic, not willpower-related. But if there's any silver lining to come out of this questionable experiment, it's that circadian rhythms are clearly very real and very genetic.

The root of the problem is society's schedule demands, not our genes. Changing circadian rhythms to fix sleep disorders is like altering female feet to make them fit in high heels better, rather than just taking off the heels.

Many humans experience the same problems these monkeys face thanks to early school times, rather than scientific experiments. Currently, we're researching complicated ways to alter our own perfectly natural circadian rhythms to fit society's ideal ones. Might we be better off just making school and work schedules more flexible? It'd fix the problem, no monkey torture required.

China just cloned a bunch of monkeys to have these disorders
The scientists say this could be a breakthrough for humans with sleep problems, but I'm not so sure.

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