In China, scientists have been tweaking the genes of various breeds of dogs to create thickly-muscled beagles and adorable mini-pigs, according to a report from MIT's Technology Review. The methods used to pump up the dogs involves switching off the gene that produces a protein called myostatin, which inhibits muscle growth.
Over email, a researcher named Liangxue Lai, who works in the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, told Technology Review that genetically-altered, yoked pups "are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications."
Lai and 28 colleagues reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy. “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.”
While Lai's team has what sounds like an altruistic goal, their research could easily be used to genetically "fix" many domesticated animals. Technology Report cites BGI's work in producing tiny pigs that sell as pets (and post-apocalyptic food sources?) for about $1600 a pop.
The big concern with gene editing is that it's relatively easy to do now and could lead to editing human embryos to combat genetic defects both real and perceived—potentially leading to a Gattaca-like world where the genetically-perfected form an upper class that lords over the genetically "inferior."
As the MIT blog noted, myostatin suppression can occur naturally in some breeds of cattle, certain dogs, and even humans. A simple Google search shows that athletes have been aware of the potential in reducing the protein for years, and it's the subject of lots of online discussion in weightlifting forums.
We suspect there are a few eager bodybuilders out there right now saving up their money for a trip to China to talk with some scientists.
Photos by Atsme/Wikimedia