Those huge, genetically modified, super animals you keep reading about in dystopian and science-fiction books are no longer a work of fiction. It appears that man just gave his best friend a genetic makeover.
For the first time in reported history, researchers in China have used a powerful gene editing tool to create a new breed of super-fast, extra-muscular dogs that will ominously be used for police and military operations.
Yes, it is as terrifying as it sounds.
Apparently, the scientists have created beagles with double amount of muscle mass by manipulating the animals’ DNA and deleting a certain gene, the MIT Technology Review reported. The genetically engineered dogs not only have more muscles than usual beagles, but are also expected to possess “stronger running ability.”
“The goal of the research is to explore an approach to the generation of new disease dog models for biomedical research,” explained study co-author Liangxue Lai. “Dogs are very close to humans in terms of metabolic, physiological, and anatomical characteristics.”
The dogs, named Hercules and Tiangou, are currently kept at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute in China. Moreover, the researchers hope to create other modified dogs that mimic degenerative human diseases – including muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's – in an effort to understand the illness better.
While the prospect of customized pets does not sound that awful, Liangxue claims his group has no plans to breed the super-dogs as pets. However, since his work is a breakthrough in editing animal genomes, others can soon create and sell mutant dogs with enhanced intelligence and no genetic illnesses.
Those who are wondering how exactly the scientists managed to bulk up the beagles should take a calming breath because the canines didn’t go through anything horrible. There was no Captain America likening super-strength serum involved in the experimentation. In fact, scientists only injected a chemical agent into dogs’ embryos to destroy a gene called myostatin that occurs naturally,and is known to restrain muscle growth.
If that is inhibited, animals can gain significantly more muscle mass and become much stronger than usual. The impacts of removing this gene have been well studied, and apparently, there aren’t any known side-effects to it.
As it turns out, there’s a mutation that naturally occurs in whippets’ myostatin genes that leads to the creation of double-muscled “bully whippets.” The gene was discovered in 1997.
Dogs aren’t the only species prone to this anomaly – it can also happen with humans, although it’s extremely rare. Around 10 years ago, a child was reportedly born without the gene and had extra muscle and strength compared to an average baby.
Hopefully, something good will come out of these experiments. Perhaps they will help scientists find a treatment for degenerative diseases in humans, thus proving to be a means of progress into the fields of science and health.