BEIJING (Web Desk) – Scientists in China claim they are the first to use gene editing to create “designer dogs” with special characteristics.
Two beagle puppies called Tiangou and Hercules, were created to be extra muscley – with double the amount of muscle mass than typical – by deleting a single gene called myostatin.
The team from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying the goal was to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy, so human treatments could be tested on them.
The muscle-enhanced beagles Tiangou and Hercules were creating using a gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas 9 – a sort of cut-and-paste tool for DNA that allows you to design living creatures the way you want on a computer, and then actually create them.
“It’s the one of the most precise and efficient ways we have of editing DNA in any cell, including humans,” said Professor George Church of Harvard University, who is a pioneer in the field of genetic engineering.
It works by digitally designing a piece of nucleic acid that recognises a single place in your genome, and then allows cutting and editing at that point.
The Chinese researchers inserted this DNA-modifying tool into more than 60 dog embryos.
Their objective was to damage, or knock out, the myostatin gene which blocks muscle production, so that the beagles’ bodies would produce extra muscle.
In the end, of 65 embryos they edited, 27 puppies were born, but only two, a female and a male, had disruptions in both copies of the myostatin gene.
Tiangou, the female beagle, showed obvious physical changes compared to other puppies, while Hercules was still producing some myostatin and was less muscley.
Only a few weeks previously, the Beijing Genomics Institute said it had created designer ‘micropigs’ that will be sold for $1600 as pets.
Since the technique is relatively simple, there are valid fears that humans could be next.
The flames were fanned in April when another Chinese team reported altering human embryos in the laboratory, in an attempt to correct a genetic defect that causes beta-thalassemia disease.
“We have already modified embryos of both pigs and primates,” Professor Church told the Telegraph.
“It might actually be safer, and developmentally important to make corrections in a sperm or embryo, rather than a young child or an adult.”
For instance, he said, gene editing can be used to correct some forms of blindness, but it has to be done on babies, or young children, before their neurons become solidified and more resistant to change in adulthood.
But because the technology is so new, the long-term effects are still unclear. “There has to be extensive testing on animals and human adults first,” Professor Church said.
Courtesy : Telegraph