By Jean Llewellyn
On September 15, the BBC News website1 published an article by their environment correspondent, Helen Briggs, which opened by saying: ‘Scientists have produced gene-edited animals they say could serve as ‘super dads’ or ‘surrogate sires’.’
The article continued; ‘The pigs, goats, cattle and mice make sperm carrying the genetic material of donor animals’ with researchers using a hi-tech gene editing tool to knock out a male fertility gene in livestock embryos. ‘The animals were born sterile, but began producing sperm after an injection of sperm-producing cells from donor animals.’ According to the US-UK research team, ‘The technique would enable surrogate males to sire offspring carrying the genetic material of valuable elite animals.’
This concept has been developed as ‘a step towards genetically enhancing livestock to improve food production’ and, according to Prof Jon Oatley of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine; “This can hae a major impact on addressing food insecurity around the world. If we can tackle this genetically, then that means less water, less feed, and fewer antibiotics we have to put into the animals.”
The article explained that ‘the surrogate sires were confirmed to have active donor sperm. And the mice athered healthy offspring that carried the genes of the sperm donor.’ While larger animals have not yet been bred, Prof Bruce Whitelaw of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, said the study provided a powerful proof of concept. “This shows the world that this technoligy is real. It can be used. We now have to go in and work out how best to use it productively to help feed our growing population.” According to the researchers, the technology could also help in the conservation of endangered species, but the speed at which the science could be put into action would be influenced by policymakers.
In a pre-emptive strike, the UK government last month announced its intention to hold a consultation in the Fall on whether to allow such gene editing. Adversaries have already vented their opposition to the concept, arguing that ‘it simply accelerates the process that would have happened anyway with selective breeding.’2
Gene editing concept explained
The gene editing concept known as CRISPR was explained in New Scientist3 in 2018 as ‘A technology that can be used to edit genes and, as such, will likely change the world.’ It went on to explain the simple essence of CRISPR as being ‘a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell,’ after which the next step in CRISPR is gene editing, usually to alter that piece of DNA. ‘However, CRISPR has also been adapted to do other things too, such as turning genes on or off without altering their sequence.’ Adding; ‘There were ways to edit the genomes of some plants and animals before the CRISPR method was unveiled in 2012, but it took years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. CRISPR has made it cheap and easy.
‘CRISPR is already widely used for scientific research and, in the not too distant future, many of the plants and animals in our farms, gardens or homes, may have been altered with CRISPR. In fact, some people are already eating CRISPRed food.’.. To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber
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