Sinogene, a Chinese biotech company, has cloned a dog from a gene-edited donor. Longlong is the beagle’s name and it will be used by scientists to understand heart disorders and test possible cures. This is not the first time though that a canine has been born through cloning technology. Scientists in South Korea did the same thing in 2005.
Nonetheless, the Chinese clone has attracted global attention. Eugene Redmond, director of Neural Transplantation and Repair at the Yale University of Medicine called it a significant breakthrough. The Beijing-based company confirmed that it had cloned two other puppies using the same technology. Sinogene noted that because dogs share a number of inheritable diseases with human beings, they are ideal models for disease studies. The company also added that this was the first time that scientists were able to combine a gene-editing tool called CRISPR with somatic cell cloning, two of the most cutting-edge biotechnologies today.
The cloned dog has Atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty materials build up and thicken the artery walls, increasing the risk of heart attack. The WHO notes that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. The Chinese company wants to use the cloned dog for advanced research in this area.
Despite these good intentions, the cloning has raised a number of ethical issues. China has been leading the way in customizing animals genetically. Scientists in the country were able to genetically engineer monkeys to have a human autism gene. They have also created pigs without retroviruses and extra-strong dogs. Chinese scientists say that most of these cloned animals are created for the purpose of research.
However, the Sinogene clone has been singled out for ethical issues. A statement released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called the Sinogene research unethical saying that cloning was totally cruel and very expensive. In addition to this, there is no robust legal protection for lab animals in China.
The Chinese National Institute for Food and Drug Control estimates that nearly 20 million lab animals are used each year for research and testing. The majority of these animals are mice. However, this production is not effectively regulated.
But this could change in the near future. Last year, the state news agency confirmed that the government was in the process of writing tougher regulations on lab animals but nothing concrete has been released yet.
There is also the issue of cost. Gene cloning is an expensive field of research. Some analysts are questioning the logic of investing so much money in something so risky and so controversial. PETA says that this money can be used in other more noble courses including saving millions of cats and dogs around the world.
When all is said and done, Sinogene still maintains that there is value in its research. The company feels that it’s contributing to the future of pharmaceutical development and biomedical research. The Beijing-based firm also added that there is a huge demand for gene-edited dogs in the pharmaceutical industry and they are simply working to meet this demand.