Sunday, July 16, 2017 by Isabelle Z.
Genetic engineering continues to reach disturbing heights in China, where researchers at the biotech firm Sino Gene in Beijing have found a way to change a dog’s nature through genetic modification and then reproduce the animal via cloning. They could, for example, give a dog bigger muscles and then make copies of it.
The scientists recently created a cloned beagle called Long Long, who is the first dog to be cloned using a parent who was genetically modified. While scientists have been cloning dogs in South Korea for 12 years now, this marks the first time that a genetically engineered dog was duplicated. This unnatural male puppy was born in late May at the same lab where his father, Apple, was born last year.
The scientists say that they created Apple with the express purpose of serving as a lab dog for researchers to study atherosclerosis. He was created using the gene knockout technique, wherein a somatic cell was taken from a healthy beagle and one of its genes was modified to enable the dog to be born with a high amount of blood lipids to make it suitable for the study of clogged arteries.
The same technology could be used to create “super dogs” with superior muscles, strength, or running ability to serve as police or working dogs. In 2015, project leader Lai Liangxue created two beagles who were twice as muscular as a typical beagle.
Dogs are reportedly one of the most difficult mammals to clone.
The scientists also say this gene-edited technology could help create model dogs who have diseases like diabetes and autism for study purposes. There is also the possibility of using it to help pet owners create healthy clones of an ill pet who is suffering from a genetic disease.
In 2011, scientists in South Korea made headlines when they cloned a genetically-engineered dog that “glows” when it is fed the antibiotic doxycycline. After that, a Chinese company stole the spotlight when it announced plans to open a “cloning factory” that will produce a million calves per year, despite worries about the safety of consuming cloned meat. The same plant will create genetic copies of pets and sniffer dogs.
These actions are raising a lot of ethical questions. For many, it’s unconscionable for scientists to create animals that have illnesses just so they can experiment on them. Some people are asking where they draw the line. Will super-muscular humans be created next to enhance the military?
Of course, what type of behavior can we expect from a country that just wrapped up its annual dog-eating Yulin Dog Meat Festival, where thousands of dogs, many of which were stolen pets, were killed and eaten. It’s this same disregard for animal life that has Chinese scientists creating dogs only to purposely make them ill and conduct experiments on them.
Sino Gene Deputy General Manager Zhao Jianping said the company is looking forward to cloning pets and that several owners have already inquired about such services. Cloning Long Long cost the firm around $1.5 million, but they are hoping to bring the price down significantly so they can popularize it among the public. It’s hard to imagine how any grieving pet owner could think a clone of their dog would solve their problems. After all, it may look the same on the outside, but it won’t have the personality or soul of their deceased pet.
PETA’s Guo Longpeng said: “Cloning is unethical. Like any other laboratory animal, these animals are caged and manipulated in order to provide a lucrative bottom line.”
With one South Korean company cloning dogs for clients who pay $100,000, what a lucrative bottom line it is indeed.