When you can’t sleep and need to count sheep to drift off, try wrapping your brain one of these eerie glowing lambs from South America. Scientists from the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay (IRAUy) have genetically engineered nine animals to light up under UV light by incorporating a gene from the Aequorea victoria jellyfish. The research is intended to help easily identify genetically modified processes in animals.

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IRAUy, connected to the Genetically Modified Animals Unit of the Pasteur Institute, has raised a flock of nine “brilliant lambs” that they have engineered to glow green under ultra-violet light. While most animal engineering is occupied with modifying organisms to produce compounds useful to humans through their milk, such as growth hormone or insulin, the project was intended to solely refine methods of manipulation.

“We did not use a protein of medical interest or to help with a particular medicine because we wanted to fine-tune the technique. We used the green protein because the color is easily identifiable in the sheep’s tissues,” Alejo Menchaca, the head of the research team told the South Atlantic News Agency. “Our focus is generating knowledge, make it public so the scientific community can be informed and help in the long run march to generate tools so humans can live better, but we’re not out in the market to sell technology.”

The project raises a myriad of ethical questions, ranging from whether or not jellyfish genetics belong in a grazing mammal, to what the long-term implications of altering an established genome will affect the well-being of both animals and humans. The team at IRAUy insists that the sheep behave normally and are closely monitored. Yet, despite appearing to function without incident, the full consequences of furthering such research has yet to be seen. The scientists hope to trigger the interest of the pharmaceutical industry, opening up a new avenue of debate as to the safety and moral ramifications of engineering animals to produce substances intended for human health.

Via Merco Press