The new CRISPR as a technology only really came into the public spotlight last year. But already dozens, if not hundreds, of Chinese research hubs are using the technique on a range of animals.
CRISPR research is being supported in China via grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science and Technology as well as provincial governments.
In the past year alone, numerous articles have been published in leading journals documenting the use of CRISPR by Chinese scientists to create genetically enhanced goats, sheep, pigs, monkeys and dogs, among other mammals. In a September edition of Nature’s Scientific Reports, for example, geneticists Xiaolong Wang and Yulin Chen from Northwest A&F University published the results of study into enhancing goat muscle and hair growth. In early-stage goat embryos the researchers had successfully deleted two genes which suppress both hair and muscle growth. The result was 10 kids exhibiting both larger muscles and longer fur. So far, no other abnormalities have appeared.
And the Chinese genomics BGI recently announced that their institute will be selling ‘micropigs’ as pets. The institute originally created the micropigs as models for human disease, by applying a gene-editing technique to a small breed of pig known as Bama.
“[CRISPR research] is a priority area for the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” Minhua Hu, a geneticist at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute, told the Scientific American. A colleague, Liangxue Lai of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, added that “China’s government has allocated a lot of financial support in genetically modified animals in both [the] agriculture field [and the] biomedicine field.”
Not everyone in the country is sold on the new technology, said Yaofeng Zhao of China’s State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology. In an interview with Nature he said:
“I think there are different viewpoints on gene modification. Even in China there are different viewpoints on this issue. Some people in the general public, they are scared. But for most academics, I think most scientists support this kind of research—we need to do something for the future”.
Zhoa doubts whether the whole population is ready for genetically modified animals:
“If you want to use modified animals in agriculture, you must consider the public opinion—Can they accept this? Even if the technology is quite safe, it depends on many factors if you want to commercialize this kind of animal in agriculture.”
In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Elizabeth Alter, assistant professor of biology at City University of New York, stressed the general need for regulation in the use of CRISPR.
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