Test-Tube-to-Table: 11 Up-and-Coming Genetically Engineered Animals
© Najlah Feanny/CORBIS SABA
It's been almost 16 years since Dolly the cloned sheep was born. As she fades from our cultural memory, here’s a look at 11 up-and-coming (and often controversial) genetically engineered animals that might start appearing in backyards and on dinner tables near you.
1. Remote Control Rats
Photo: CC bclinesmith
By attaching wires to rats’ brains, a group of scientists at SUNY found in 2002 that they could get the little guys to turn left and right by remote control. While some animal rights activists freaked out—one of the scientists even admitted that the idea was “sort of creepy”—Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethics professor at Emory University, wasn’t moved. In an issue of GeneWatch Magazine last year, he asked if programming “roborats” was really that different from training dolphins to perform or oxen to pull.
2. Sexually Successful, Ageless Fruit Flies That Can Smell Light
Scientists have subjected fruit flies to all kinds of genetic alterations over the years, creating some that mate quickly, but carry a sterile gene, others that produce only male or only female offspring, others that avoid normal aging patterns, and others still that are able to “smell” blue light. While the USDA hoped the first two experiments could help control fruit fly populations in agricultural regions, the latter two have helped scientists understand how neurons and free radicals work within fruit flies—revelations that might one day extend to humans.
Researchers at Ontario’s University of Guelph genetically altered a Yorkshire pig to produce poop that is 30-to-70% less polluting than the average pig’s poop—a major source of phosphorous in large-scale hog farming. By engineering the pig to digest a particular form of phosphorous in its food, the developers found they could reduce the total amount of phosphorous in the pig’s poop.
4. Glow-in-the-Dark Beagles
Photo: A fluorescent puppy at Seoul National University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. © JO YONG-HAK/Reuters/Landov
A team of South Korean scientists injected a gene into a two-year-old beagle named Tegon that made her glow in the dark. "Tegon opens new horizons since the gene injected to make the dog glow can be substituted with genes that trigger fatal human diseases," said lead researcher Lee Byeong-chun told Reuters.
Scientists hope that Tegon and other animals—including a rhesus monkey and piglets that have been made to glow—will help them identify complications from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
5. Fast-Growing Salmon
The FDA is currently reviewing the possibility of allowing genetically engineered salmon, which grow nearly twice as fast as regular salmon, into supermarkets and onto American dinner tables. If it’s allowed, these special salmon would be the first officially genetically engineered food to become a part of the human food supply (although there have been some isolated slip-ups in the past). Advocates say the fast-growing salmon would be a boon to some farmers, while critics argue that they would be bad for the environment, the health of salmon populations, and for humans who may get fewer nutrients and more allergens from the food.
6. Pharmaceutical Dairy Cows
Scientists have found a way to create medicine using proteins extracted from the milk of genetically-engineered goats, cows and rabbits. That’s actually pretty old news—scientists have been doing that since 1989—but the field has continued to grow recently as pharmaceutical manufacturers find ways to get farm animals to produce existing medicines at a cheaper cost than making them in the lab.
7. Obese, Mangy, Anxious, Tumor-Ridden Mice
Photo: Rick Eh?'s photostream
Over the course of many years, scientists have created all sorts of mice by “turning off”—or “knocking out,” to use the geneticists’ lexicon—one individual gene or another. By observing those “knock out mice,” scientists are often able to venture a guess as to what function a specific gene had. This is nothing new, but it has resulted in some fascinating insights recently about the genetic roots of cancer, anxiety, heart disease and, yes, why it is that some of us—both mice and humans—tend to get fat.
8. Neon Nemo
It’s now possible to take home your very own genetically engineered pet: the GloFish. Scientists originally engineered these small, fluorescent fish to glow whenever they encountered environmental pollutants in their habitats, but the commercial, just-for-fun pet version glows all the time. They’re available for purchase across the United States, but not in California.
9. Spare Part Pigs
It’s already fairly common to transplant pig heart valves into human patients, but recent scientific discoveries suggest it will soon be possible to transplant entire hearts—livers, kidneys and pancreases, too—from genetically modified pigs into human patients. These special “spare part pigs” have been designed so that the gene that would normally cause the human immune system to reject a foreign organ is out of service. Some ethicists have found this idea a little weird, but others have suggested that raising pigs for their organs is really no different than raising them for bacon.
10. Popeye the Pig
In 2002, a team of Japanese scientists from Kinki University became the first group to successfully add a functioning plant gene—a gene from spinach—to an animal. In this case, it was a pig. The resulting Spinach-Pig carried 20% less saturated fat in its carcass.
11. The Ear Mouse
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps the most famous real-live
Frankenstein's Monster of its day, the so-called Vacanti Mouse was created by scientists in Massachusetts in 1995 to grow what appeared to be a human ear on its back. The scientists were hoping to demonstrate that it was possible to get living creatures to grow cartilage structures that could then be used for transplants onto human patients. The Ear Mouse, which quickly became famous and was featured on the Jay Leno show, was used instead in the late ‘90s as a poster-mouse, so to speak, for groups opposed to genetically modifying animals.