The picture to the right is of my cat Chloe, all dressed up for her debut on Signals. Amazingly, Franklin West (University of Georgia) thinks domesticated cats (Chloe!) are the ideal vessel for saving big cats of the endangered species kind.
The idea is to collect skin cells from, say, tigers and turn those cells into stem cells – this is still in the works – to then be reprogrammed into a sperm and an egg to allow for the creation of an embryo. The tiger embryo will then be used to artificially inseminate one of Chloe’s furry pals.
I don’t know how long the gestation process will take – it’s nine weeks for cats and 16 for tigers – but somewhere in that range, presumably, a baby tiger will be born. Experts say using house cats is a less risky option than using a tiger surrogate. Chloe may disagree; however, in a conversation with The Dodo, Dr. West had some reassuring words for her.
“Making sure this procedure would be safe for cats is a big issue for us. You don’t want to save one species by doing something negative to another species,” says Dr. West. “Embryos tend to develop a little smaller, to fit the vessel, so to speak. Once they are birthed, the animal then catches up on growth rapidly. That’s one thing we believe will happen.”
On the other side of the world, Chinese scientists are creating genetically customized dogs, goats, monkeys and pigs using CRISPR-Cas9 to snip out segments of DNA.
Says geneticist Lei Qu of the Shaanxi Provincial Engineering and Technology Research Center for Shaanbei Cashmere Goats: “We believed (sic) gene-modified livestock will be commercialized after we demonstrate [that it] is safe.”
Not surprisingly, genetically modifying animals for agriculture and biomedicine has its detractors. In the same article, George Daley, Harvard Medical School, had this to say: “What is different about CRISPR is that the technology is vastly more efficient and so the possibility of it being practiced widely is that much more real.” […] “The ethical concerns are now upon us because the technology is real,” he adds.
(But this post isn’t about CRISPR. For that, you can read Holly Wobma’s overview, Nicole Forgione’s nod to Margaret Atwood and the perspective from bloggers David Brindley and James Smith here. And I offer you this genome engineering infographic.)
Rather, it’s a reminder that we’ve moved on from Dolly the Sheep to pretty remarkable uses of regenerative medicine in animals. And cloning is still happening, but on a much larger level.
Chloe and I will be watching these developments closely. (And here’s something feline from the Toronto International Film Festival for you to watch.)
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