Less than a month after the genetically modified “micropigs” hit the pet market, Chinese scientists have just announced the successful engineering of double-muscled dogs. With twice the muscle mass of normal beagles, these dogs are #swole.
Publishing in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, the researchers, led by Liangxue Lai of the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, describe their use of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to delete a gene called myostatin, which is known to control muscle production. A breed of cattle known as Belgian Blues, which naturally lacks the gene, is famous for being extra-beefy, in both the literal and figurative sense.
The myostatin-free superbeagles, which are stronger and can presumably run a lot faster than their unmodified counterparts, are likely to find a home in the police and military, reports the MIT Technology Review. But the researchers don’t intend on selling their research models as pets.
They are, however, open to the idea that other scientists could capitalize on rapidly improving genetic modification techniques to make commercialized gene-edited pets. CRISPR, in particular, is a gene-editing tool that makes precise cuts in an organism’s DNA and has been used to genetically modify organisms from peanuts to human embryos.
In theory, CRISPR/Cas9 is completely safe. And, as “double-muscling” occasionally occurs in nature without disastrous effects — take the naturally myostatin-free bully whippets, for example — it’s doubtful these beagles will be subject to any weird diseases down the line. But it’s hard to say: Because the technology is so new, it isn’t clear what the long-term effects of CRISPR gene editing will be, whether we’re talking beagles, micropigs, or humans.