GMO Sheep Pave Way for Customized Pets

gmo sheep

The first five spotty sheep bred using CRISPR/Cas9

Researchers claim shoppers will in future be able to source dye-free wool in different colors, and pet owners can order animals with customized fur coloring.

Scientists have bred the world’s first spotty sheep that look like “cows” and “spotty dogs” in a controversial genetic engineering experiment.

The genetically modified animals are the brainchild of Liu Mingjun – chief researcher at the state-run Xinjiang Animal Husbandry Research Institute.

He says the lambs, which were born in March using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technology, “have become our lovely pets,” and pave the way for dye-free wool and pets with customized fur.

It is also believed the modified animals could assist with clinical research and supplying animal organs for transplant to human patients.

However, the experiment has caused fears that CRISPR could be used to create designer babies.

CRISPR/Cas9 is an immensely powerful technique invented three years ago which allows DNA to be “cut and pasted” using molecular “scissors”.

It could lead to huge leaps forward in science and medicine, but critics have warned that the pace of change is too fast.

A group of 25 scientists proposed an ambitious project to create a synthetic human genome, or genetic blueprint, in an endeavor that is bound to raise concerns over the extent to which human life can or should be engineered.

The genetically modified animals are the brainchild of Liu Mingjun – chief researcher at the state-run Xinjiang Animal Husbandry Research Institute.

But Mr Mingjun told China’s state news agency Xinhua the project has both serious scientific and commercial aims.

The Xinjiang region, in the far northwest of China, still has nomadic herders taking their flocks to higher summer pastures, but Dr Liu’s work in Urumqi, the capital, reveals Chinese efforts to be at the forefront of CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

Dr Liu believes his sheep will outperform ordinary sheep in muscle and wool growth – following on from an experiment last year that saw the creation of unusually muscular beagles.

He will find out how strong the sheep are during the lambing season in the autumn – when his team will study the genetic stability of the 38 sheep they have already bred.

The experiment has caused fears in Western parts of the world that CRISPR could be used to create designer babies.

British scientists began research using CRISPR earlier this year on embryos after The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulator approved a license to use gene editing in research.

The scientists, who are searching for clues to what happens in the first seven days after fertilization and want to investigate miscarriage, will not be able to implant the embryos into women.

Scientists propose to use new methods based on CRISPR/Cas9, which allows very specific alterations to be made to the genome.

But one major concern is that making changes to embryonic DNA could have unknown harmful effects throughout an individual’s body.

There is also the risk of passing genetic “mistakes” on to future generations.

Article Credit: The Daily Mirror