Genetically Modifying Animals

Finding the cutest and best-looking dog or cat is an important part of adopting a new furry friend. So imagine if you could genetically manipulate the traits of an animal to create the ideal pet! Right now, with the assistance of advanced gene modifying programs such as TALENS and CRISPR, genetically modified animals are becoming a reality. Recently, a genomics institute located in Shenzhen, China, called BGI, revealed their genetically modified “micro-pig,” which weighs about 30 pounds when mature. They intend to sell these micro-pigs for $1,600 and, eventually, BGI hopes that customers will be able to “order pigs with customized coat colors and patterns.” The company’s goal is to bring their genetic modifications to a higher level, potentially modifying dog and cat DNA. But no one knows what kind of medical issues will arise from tampering with the genes of an animal. With such little existing research and experience on genetically modifying animals, do we know if it is medically safe – or even ethical – to change a pet’s genome?

The Science

Compared to past techniques, gene editing can be performed much more quickly and efficiently. The price of gene modification has decreased from tens of thousands of dollars to just hundreds of dollars, and these methods have been made public. In the field of genome modification, the two main methods of editing genes are TALENs and CRISPR. These two methods have revolutionized science, providing scientists the chance to conduct revolutionary research—and businesses to create new animal “products.”

The TALENs method uses specially coded enzymes called TALENs to split or cut out specific DNA segments and input new segments of DNA. The TALENs method is very effective because the enzymes can target specific sites where original DNA will be replaced by new segments, overall changing genes. In other words, this program will allow scientists to insert the preferred traits into the DNA of the subject. For example, scientists can replace the brown-eye DNA sequence with a blue-eye sequence, nearly guaranteeing that the animal will have blue eyes.

The other common technique for genome modification is called CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” CRISPR is a natural, adaptive immunity used by select bacteria and archaea to defend against invasive genetic material. CRISPR uses a DNA-snipping enzyme called Cas9, which cuts out specific segments of DNA. Afterwards, new segments are inserted to fill the gaps, overall changing a select gene of a cell. This cell can then divide and multiply through mitosis, creating more cells with the desired traits.

The Debate

The truth is that humans been modifying animals for all of recorded history. Supporters of genetic modification argue that humanity has already been changing animals’ genes for thousands of years through selective breeding. When breeders perform selective breeding, allowing only offspring with the desired traits to reproduce, they are controlling the genes that appear in following generations. Is ordering a dog with specific traits from a breeder different than ordering a genetically modified one?

Opponents of genetically modified pets argue that they may negatively impact the environment if they are released into the wild. Similar to invasive species, GMO animals might outcompete native populations for resources and replace them. In addition, genetically modified animals might have unintended developmental or health issues. By modifying an animal’s gene, it’s hard to predict the longer term consequences of even a “minor” change like eye or fur color. Genetic modification could put our pets at risk.

So, would you buy a genetically customized pet? What do you think are the most important ethical considerations when it comes to genetically engineering animals? What guidelines or restrictions should be in place, if any?

Learn More….

ARTICLE: Lighten Up, California: Why GloFish Can’t Glow in the Golden State (KQED QUEST)
This article by Dr. Barry Starr, of Tech Museum and Stanford University, outlines the debate over the use of GloFish in California. The state’s Fish and Game Commission decided in 2003 that GloFish were the result of a “trivial use for a powerful technology.”

VIDEO: Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9 (McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT)
This animation depicts the CRISPR-Cas9 method for genome editing – a powerful new technology with many applications in biomedical research, including the potential to treat human genetic disease.

VIDEO: Science Creates Glowing Kittens, Monkeys and Sheep! (Discovery News)
DNews reports on the fluorescent protein that’s turning animals bioluminescent, and the implications it has for science.

REPORT: Brief Summary of Genetic Engineering and Animals (Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center)
This research paper outlines the pros and cons of genetic engineering technology and its creation of and patenting of transgenic animal species.

BLOG: Warning: Genetically Modified Humans
(Scientific American, Guest Blog)
This blog piece by Zaria Gorvett, a British science graduate and aspiring science writer, calls for greater regulation of procedures such as pre-natal screening, and to exercise restraint in genetic engineering.

KQED Education partners with phenomenal organizations to bring you the Science Do Now activities. The Science Do Now is posted every two weeks on Tuesday. This post was written by the following youth from the Science News Team within the California Academy of Sciences’ TechTeens program:

Alex B, Alvin S, Darrah B, Mathew L, Maggie Y, Ori L, and Sophie H

The TechTeens are youth leaders who use digital media to develop and communicate science stories for the public.

Would You Buy a Genetically Modified Pet? 12 March,2018California Academy of Sciences

  • John Burns

    Since we have been using GMOs for food we should keep it up as we have not see any problems.

    Is there any evidence that eating GMO food can cause birth defects in humans.

    Boys Republic Period 1

  • John Burns

    We would not want any GMO pets because of the consequences for interbreeding.

    Boys Republic High School
    Period 2

  • John Burns

    Since we have the technology we think there should be more GMO pets that we could have at home.

    Period 3
    Boys Republic High School

  • John Burns

    One question we have how does behavior of GMO pets change?

    Period 4
    Boys Republic High School

  • John Burns

    We would like the technology to develop so that we could custom order our pets like a mini pit bull.

    Boys Republic
    Period 5

  • John Burns

    We should continue GMO technology with animals but not with humans.

    Period 6
    Boys Republic High School

  • Faye

    I think we should continue with the development of genetically modifying animals, but not without proper research into the medical side effects and genetic problems that occur due to the altering of genetics. I think we should also conduct background into the ethical treatment of the animals being modified and experimented with.

    • CAStechteens

      This is a great point. Researchers should continue to investigate and learn more about the possible health effects of genetically modifying an animal. The world of genetic modification is still a mystery and it will take more research before scientists know everything about GMOs.

  • HG

    I would not risk the health of the animal for them to look “ideal”. Part of the fun of buying a pet is getting a pet is finding the right one for you in terms of personality. For these reasons, I would not buy a genetically modified pet. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

    • Kendall

      I agree with you. I think the whole point of picking out the perfect pet is it coming with special traits, risking the safety and health issues of an animal is not worth it. Everyone and everything has it’s flaws and that’s what we learn to accept and love about that certain someone or something.

      • Erin O

        I agree with you Kendall. Nobody is perfect and we need to accept and realize that. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

    • Cassidy W.

      Yeah, I agree with HG. You’re not always going to get the “perfect”, that’s kind of the fun of it. We also don’t need genetically modified pets. So, there is no need to buy one. Maybe we should focusing on finding rescue pets, and not create more pets that can possibly go out on the street, and into the rescue cycle. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

    • MC

      I agree with you because I don’t think that pets should look “perfect”, its not about their looks its about their personality.

  • Daniel

    I would definitely buy a genetically modified pet. I mean humans have already been changing the appearances of animals and plants through the use of selective breeding. Genetically modifying is just the short way of generations of selective breeding. Personally I think it is quit school that today’s technology and science is capable of doing things like changing the appearances of animals through genes.

    • Hannah F.

      I don’t agree because while it is very impressive that we can do that it does not mean that we should do it. So I believe that this technology should not be used unless it would be for the greater good of the animal not so that people think it is cuter.

    • CAStechteens

      Great comment!

  • lexie

    I believe just because you want an animal to look a certain way doesn’t mean u alter the way they look. Think about would your family would you want someone doing tests on u changing the way you look. We are all made to look different and while it could help your health everyone was made a certain way that no one should mess with. Its like humans messing with nature its never good. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

  • Emily

    I think you shouldn´t modify an animal´s genes just because they looked different. They were born like that for a reason and you shouldn mix around with what´s there. Messing with nature never turns out well. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

    • CAStechteens

      Good point. But haven’t humans been modifying animals for centuries through selective breeding? How is this different?

  • Rafael LM

    I think that buying GMO pets is not a bad idea if it does not affect animals in the wild. There is always room for new ideas in the world.

  • SS

    I would not buy a GMO. While there are no discovered disabilities or diseases show in GMOs, what if I was to buy a GMO, and then there was a sudden death in the pet. I would’ve just wasted some of my money because of the lack of knowledge on health issues in GMOs

  • Victor

    I wouldn’t buy a GMO pet. It probably isn’t that bad, but knowing that it is genetically modified makes me sort of scared to buy one. We should keep the world as natural as possible. #DoNowGMOPets #HCW1516

  • Ethan Baram

    I would not buy a GMO pet. They probably have numerous health problems like most GMOs do. Pets are not supposed to be perfect, there supposed to misbehave and cause trouble. I do not know why but if I had a GMO pet I would treat it as if it were a robot. #HCW1516

  • Kate

    I don’t think it’s humane to genetically modify animals or any living thing for that matter because it is wrong. Just because it might help people, risking an animals life and changing it’s ways of life or the way it looks is morally wrong.

  • Taylor Dowdy

    I personally would not purchase a genetically modified animal because you are just messing with its DNA to make the pet more attractive and desirable for the person buying it. Its like going to a dog breeder to get the designer dog of your dreams, when there are so many shelter dogs that need homes that are far from perfect but just as special. Modifying these an animal’s genes purely for aesthetics is beyond ridiculous.

  • Jessica Cabral

    I am in support of GMO pets. However there are possible issues to developing these pets, there are more pros to help many people. Not only is this something people would be able to enjoy and dream of, it also has positive effects for medical research. Also, for example we have engineered Salmon to grow faster so we can farm quicker. In the people are more important to keep alive and if we are able to use animals to help this happen, it is a smart decision. Lastly, it was brought up about how genetically modified pets are extremely similar to selective breeding. We have done this sort of things for centuries and even though some people do not agree it is still continued.

  • Jessica McKay

    In my opinion I feel that genetically modifying animals is not a smart idea. Although you may think it is a very interesting thing to be able to accomplish creating your own animal, literally it can also create problem for the natural world. With the animals that are being produced in labs that are genetically modified if they are released into the wild it can cause them to create problems, such as if a genetically modified animals interacts and breeds with an animal that is not genetically modified it can create a problem since the genes may not know how to react with each other since a set of the genes were human modified. I don’t think we should keep going in the process of genetically modifying animals so that we don’t end up encountering a problem that we will be unable to fix.

  • Alyzza Valtierra

    I think it is wrong to genetically modify animals because they were created a certain way for a specific reason just like humans. If we tamper with their DNA we can cause abnormality. We don’t know what could possibly happen and they could even become dangerous to humans. We don’t know how the animals feel so it could also be causing them pain.

  • Eugene Vang

    I would buy a Genetically Modified Pet such as a micropig because I believe there is no problem with changing animals genes if it causes no harm. The original plan to alter the genes of these animals like the pigs or rats were to use them for medical research and experiment. In the end, these pets are healthy and have caused no problems. If people are worried that there may be problems in the future with the environment, I believe they should have more experiments done. These experiments will then prove that Genetically Modified pets wouldn’t be such a bad idea. There must be enough research done in order to ensure a successful and non-harming animal in the end. We have been selectively breeding animals and pets such as dogs and cats for an abundant amount of time already. I think we as humans even select a mate which would eventually create a baby that we want, which is basically selective breeding. We could even put good use to this method and modify animals that could help solve world problems such as global warming. These are the reasons why I support Genetically Modified Pets.

  • Alistaire

    I don’t think we should continue with the development of genetically modifying animals without proper research into the medical side effects. Genetic problems can occur due to the altering of genetics. I think we should also conduct background into the ethical treatment of the animals being modified and experimented with.

  • Cinnie Moua

    In my opinion I think genetically modifying for human benefits and excitement is wrong on many levels. We do not have enough research and experience on this matter to know what kind of medical issues could arise from this nor do we know what the consequences of doing this can do to us or other animals that have not been genetically modified. We should not do this just to fulfill our desires of what we want in a pet.

  • Niccole Defay

    I don’t think we should continue with the development of genetically modifying animals without proper research into the medical side effects. Genetic problems can occur due to the altering of genetics. I think we should also conduct background into the ethical treatment of the animals being modified and experimented with.

  • Jam Thao

    I believe we should continue and yes! to having genetic pigs. It gives us as humans more knowledge and technology on the subject. Everything will seem scary or harmful when unknown. Now we have great technology advancement and should be taking full responsibility.

    • Luis P Fernandez

      It seems to me that you are implying that, until we try, we can never really know what is going on. I think that we should not go all-out with genetic modification and bringing it all out there for human use and enjoyment, as we have limited knowledge of long-term and unforeseen consequences. We cannot begin to take responsibility for our actions until we have some knowledge of what we are doing before we unleash the products of our technology to the mainstream.

    • Fr V

      i agree. this is very important area to explore that will lead to great advances. i would like a customized pet if the animal is healthy and happy like other animals.

  • Carissa Day

    I do not agree with genetically modifying a pet for strictly human desires. If it is being modified for a purpose or health reasons I believe that is okay. Genetically modifying animals has not been practiced enough therefore making the outcome unexpected. It hasn’t been researched either making it potentially dangerous. Genetic engineering has been around for a while and it has been effective so I think if somethings not broke why fix it. In other words if . If selective breeding works and it is done for a purpose why not keep that and not venture out into genetic modifying where the results are unknown.

  • disqus_31YDAXE0Oq

    We also need to think about what will happen next? Is this a gateway into more human DNA tampering?

  • Jason

    @bchsb12chem #DoNowGMOPets Genetically modifying animals for our own benefit is very wrong in my opinion. I can see how we can gain knowledge and advance in the field of science from this but it can’t be good for the animals. All of these chemicals and changes in DNA can lead to unexpected outcomes. We are the way we are for a reason. Why go and try to fix something that has been working for so long? Although it would also be cool to see a rainbow colored cat walking down the street, what kinds of risks are we willing to do these kinds of things.

  • Charlotte Viney

    It isn’t ethical to change an animal’s genes just for human satisfaction. People should love their pets for who they are instead of trying to change them!!

  • Maddy Padgett

    I do not agree with GMO pets. There are a few reasons that I feel this way. The first being I don’t think it is anyone’s business to be messing with another organisms life or death as well as overall health. Yes it helps with research and shows just exactly what we are capable of but it is unnecessary. It almost goes with the saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Nature has a way of selective breeding and survival of the fittest. The whole process of evolution has occurred through this. What would genetically altering species DNA do to the natural flow of evolution? Secondly splicing DNA has shown that it creates health issues for the subject. That means we are now okay with causing pain and suffering so we can have a cute pig? I don’t think so. I say leave it to nature. It has a way of working and its worked for years.


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