Genetically Modified Pets Are Here

Genetic modification isn’t just for corn and soy beans these days.

by Dani Yokhna

A Chinese biotech company used gene editing to stunt the growth of pigs, making them a suitable size for pets.

Genetic modification is not a topic for only the vegetable field. Genetically engineered salmon has been on the Food and Drug Administration’s radar for a while, we’ve talked about the genetically modified mosquitoes that the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District wants to release, and this week, I have some freakish GM-pet news for you.

This Little GM Piggy

Just when you thought it was safe to buy a pet pig, scientists had to go and genetically modify them. I personally do not understand the pet-pig attraction, but I know people with pigs who are pretty happy with them. Whether they’d pay $1,600 for one, I’m not sure, but the Chinese biotechnology company Beijing Genomics Institute is going to find out.

BGI used gene editing to create these 33-pound pet porkers, originally destined for the testing lab. Their scientists cut out pieces of a pig’s gene sequence so the pig cannot grow to what nature has determined to be the pigs’ normal size. This is a different form of genetic modification than that of the GE salmon mentioned above, which is created by injecting growth-hormone and growth-promoter genes from other fish into the salmon DNA.

The Los Angeles Times goes into interesting detail about what these pigs mean for GE-animal regulations in the U.S. A pig is, after all, considered a food animal as well as a pet.


Scientists shut down the myostatin gene, which led to double-muscling in dogs.
Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health

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There are two recurring nightmares that I have, and if the genetically engineered dogs from this experiment were black, they’d look just like the dogs that are in one of my nightmares. Also being presented by Chinese biotech researchers—this time, the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health—are double-muscled dogs. The dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” says researcher Liangxue Lai. This statement, combined with that recurring nightmare of mine, makes me want to never sleep again.

The robo-dogs were created by damaging the myostatin gene, which regulates muscle mass. They were created with the hope of producing dogs for biomedical research, as “dogs are very close to humans in terms of metabolic, physiological and anatomical characteristics,” Lai says.

Only 27 of the 65 embryos that were modified produced puppies, and only two of those showed this double muscling—one of those two doesn’t have complete myostatin-gene shutdown, so this research is far from complete.

The researchers say they have no intention of creating these double-muscled dogs as pets, though they point to the ability of biotechnology to create other gene-altered dogs. Consider designer dogs of certain sizes (a toy-sized Great Dane?) and smarter dogs (that don’t chase their tails?). Genetic engineering also holds the potential to correct genetic illnesses in certain breeds or lineages, and dogs can be created with conditions that mimic human muscular conditions (think Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy) for future research purposes.

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