5 Takeaways From China’s Bizarre Genetic Splicing Experiment

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Steve Ambrose Contributor
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Motorola allows you to customize your phones. China, not to be outdone, now customizes their animals.  Scientists in China say they are the first to use genetic engineering to modify genetic traits in canines, according to an Oct. 19 report from MIT Technology Review.

DNA, the genetic code for development and reproduction for all living creatures, is constructed from four compounds: cytosine (C), guanine (G), adenine (A), and thymine (T). Genome editing (a type of genetic engineering) is the process of disabling or rearranging these DNA letters in genes, according to MIT Technology Review.

A small tweak in DNA can lead to dramatic changes physically or behaviorally. (RELATED: Scientists Finally Discover Why Some Smokers Have ‘Healthy Lungs’)

In the experiment, 29 scientists at the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health modified a standard beagle by deleting the muscle inhibiting protein known as myostatin. The end result was a laboratory beagle with twice as much muscle mass as the standard beagle.

In an email to MIT Technology Review, Liangxue Lai, a researcher with the Institute, said the “goal of the research is to explore an approach to the generation of new disease dog models for biomedical research. Dogs are very close to humans in terms of metabolic, physiological, and anatomical characteristics.”

Here are the 5 takeaways from the Chinese gene splicing program.

CRISPR, the inexpensive method used to alter the DNA of the beagles, was developed by researchers here in the states. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and University of California at Berkeley were all heavily involved in the creation of the project.

2. Hercules and Tiangou
The scientists edited a total of 65 beagle embryos. Of the total, 27 puppies were born. From the 27 puppies, only two had the intended destruction of the myostatin gene. The male puppy was appropriately named Hercules and the female puppy was named Tiangou.

3. Not Just Dogs
Canines are just the latest animal to be introduced to gene modification. Other animals that have been genetically modified include goats, monkeys, pigs, rabbits, and rats. BGI, a genetics institute in Shenzhen, China, has commercialized the genetic modification and is selling customized miniature pigs for $1,600. MIT Technology Review noted that Duanqing Pei, a representative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the programs were a scientific priority for China and part of its effort to establish a renowned research program.

4. DNA Beyond The Lab
Altering the DNA of embryos “can affect every cell in an animals’ body, including sperm and egg, the cells of the ‘germline.’” Essentially, once the DNA is manipulated, those changes can be passed down onto offspring

5. Myostatin First, Parkinson’s Second
The elimination of the myostatin protein is not the limits of the genetic experiments. Lai told MIT Technology Review that “they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy.”

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