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Chinese Researchers Knock Out Myostatin Gene in Beagles with CRISPR, Generating First Gene-Edited Dogs


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There needs to be a moratorium on CRISPR in China, because these dogs are freakin' TERRIFYING.

Terrifying! Why would the scientists do this??

Scientists in China say they are the first to use gene editing to produce customized dogs. They created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass by deleting a gene called myostatin.

The dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Liangxue Lai, a researcher with the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, said in an e-mail.

Really, I'm scared. 

Lai said his group had no plans breed to breed the extra-muscular beagles as pets. Other teams, however, could move quickly to commercialize gene-altered dogs, potentially editing their DNA to change their size, enhance their intelligence, or correct genetic illnesses. A different Chinese Institute, BGI, said in September it had begun selling miniature pigs, created via gene editing, for $1,600 each as novelty pets.

The Chinese beagle project was led by Lai and Gao Xiang, a specialist in genetic engineering of mice at Nanjing University. The dogs are being kept at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute, which says on its website that it breeds more than 2,000 beagles a year for research. Beagles are commonly used in biomedical research in both China and the U.S.

Genome editing refers to newly developed techniques that let scientists easily disable genes or rearrange their DNA letters. The method used to change the beagles, known as CRISPR-Cas9, is particularly inexpensive and precise (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2014: Genome Editing”).

Last month, Duanqing Pei, a representative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, highlighted Lai’s work as part of what he called a large Chinese effort to modify animals using CRISPR. The list of animals already engineered using gene editing in China includes goats, rabbits, rats, and monkeys. Pei described the efforts as a national scientific priority and part of China’s effort to establish world-class research.

The ease with which gene-editing can be carried out has raised worries that humans could be next (see “Engineering the Perfect Baby”). Those fears were stoked 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 (see “Chinese Team Reports Gene-Editing Human Embryos”).

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People have been influencing the genetics of dogs for millennia. By at least 36,000 years ago, early humans had already started to tame wolves and shape the companions we have today. Charles Darwin frequently cited dog breeding in The Origin of Species to demonstrate how evolution gradually occurs by a process of selection. With CRISPR, however, evolution is no longer gradual or subject to chance. It is immediate and under human control.

It is precisely that power that is stirring wide debate and concern over CRISPR. Yet at least some researchers think that gene-edited dogs could put a furry, friendly face on the technology. In an interview this month, George Church, a professor at Harvard University who leads a large effort to employ CRISPR editing, said he thinks it will be possible to augment dogs by using DNA edits to make them live longer or simply make them smarter.

Church said he also believed the alteration of dogs and other large animals could open a path to eventual gene editing of people. “Germline editing of pigs or dogs offers a line into it,” he said. “People might say, ‘Hey, it works.’ ”

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