Chinese scientists successfully engineer ‘super muscular’ beagles

21 Oct 2015

A team of researchers in China have reportedly just genetically modified a pair of beagles that are far stronger than normal, all by using the CRISPR-Cas9 method so lauded by scientists around the world.

Hercules and Tiangoe are a pair of beagles that have, essentially, been ‘customised’, having double the amount of normal muscle mass.

Chinese scientists used the CRISPR-Cas9 technique to hone in on the dogs’ make-up and delete a gene called myostatin.

By doing so, across 65 dog embryos to start with, they managed to remove muscle growth inhibitors in the two dogs.

The dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Liangxue Lai, a researcher with the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, told MIT Technology Review.

Early stages

Hercules and Tiangoe reacted differently to the CRISPR-Cas9 process, with the former still producing myostatin in some muscles. However, Tiangoe’s myostatin disruption was “complete”, and the beagle “displayed obvious muscular phenotype”, or characteristics.

Whippets are the only dogs that naturally encounter situations like this, with a mutation of the gene sometimes affecting them and resulting in overtly muscly dogs. Belgian Blue cattle (below) are another example of this occurring naturally in the wild.

Belgian Blue cattle – CRISPR-Cas9 | Designer Dogs

This all makes me feel quite uncomfortable, really, as it is essentially designing dogs in an acutely genetic way. Designing animals to such a degree seems nasty for all kinds of reasons. The term ‘slippery slope’ comes to mind.

Rather than go down the farming route, though, the researchers hope to modify the DNA of dogs to make them develop diseases similar to Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy, so they can study how these diseases work.

Only a few weeks ago it was revealed that Chinese scientists had created ‘micropigs’ with a view to selling them as pets.

That slippery slope looks mighty slippery when wet.

Main image of Beagles and body image of a Belgian Blue via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic