Man’s best friend just got a 21st century GMO make-over. A team of scientists in China announced they have created the world’s first gene-edited dogs, which possess twice the amount of muscle mass than that of a non-engineered dog. These superdogs have “stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” according to Liangxue Lai, researcher involved with the project at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health. Although the gene mutation in the Chinese beagles was intentionally created, this same gene mutation does happen in one particular dog breed: whippets. These extra-bulky dogs (such as the one pictured above) lack myostatin which makes their muscles grow enormous, and they are called “bully whippets.”
The impressive but perhaps unsettling achievement was achieved through the deletion of a gene responsible for the production of myostatin, a muscle-inhibiting protein. The team’s success in creating extremely muscular canines lays groundwork for future gene experimentation. “The goal of the research is to explore an approach to the generation of new disease dog models for biomedical research,” says Lai. “Dogs are very close to humans in terms of metabolic, physiological, and anatomical characteristics.” Future GMO dogs will be altered to have symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy, so that research on treating these diseases can be conducted.
Belgian Blues, a special breed of cattle, also demonstrates the mutation. In rare cases, humans too can lack the ability to produce myostatin. However, it is important to point out that despite an altered appearance, there does not appear to be any serious disadvantages or harm from an inability to produce myostatin.