Sam is the second winner of our science writing competition, and entered the 13-15 year old category. Sam is just 13 years old and from the UK. Sam’s piece is all about how genetic modification research in animals has impacted/could impact our lives. It was an insightful read, and very impressive for someone so young. Congratulations Sam.
The Modification of Animals Genetics Explained
Humans have been modifying genes even before the meaning of genes was discovered, by way of selective breeding. This is the way in which so many breeds of dogs are in our world today, and cows and sheep have been bred to enhance farming: resulting in more meat or more wool. Since 1972, scientists have been experimenting with animal DNA in many ways; changing little pieces of the genetic puzzle to create a different strength, or weakness. Previously, the thought of having genetic chimeras or even clones, was a goal rather than just the stuff of horror stories. Nowadays this genetic manipulation is no longer seen as a dream, but more a reality.
Using nucleus transfer, in 1996, Dolly the Sheep was cloned using the nucleus (a part of the cell which holds DNA and controls reactions in the cells) from an adult sheep cell implanted into an egg, which had not been fertilised by a sperm cell. The egg’s nucleus had been removed, which is a process known as enucleation. The scientists extracted a cell from a white-faced sheep, and fused the cell with the egg using electricity, to create an embryo, which was then implanted into the surrogate mother, for the pregnancy. This was done as a series of experiments in the Roslin Institute, and Dolly had a white face, a sign she was genetically cloned as her surrogate mother had a black face.
Another experiment of animal modification was glow-in-the-dark-mice, from Caltech in 2002. By injecting a single-celled embryo (or a fertilised egg) with a virus, that contained a jellyfish gene for green fluorescence, the resulting mice had a luminous quality. This experiment has subsequently been replicated with fish, cats, and other animals. Scientists managed to inject a fluorescent gene from fireflies into mice, and this fluorescence gene was triggered when the gene, which has a role in aging and suppressing cancer (i.e. the p16 gene) was activated. Older mice glowed more brightly than younger ones, and scientists concluded that this could have a link to the p16 gene’s connection to aging. In addition, it meant that the cells of the mice that were in danger of cancer glowed. However, when the gene no longer suppressed the cancer, a tumour formed. This could suggest a role for this type of experimentation in human’s to aid the detection of cancer.
In an attempt to increase the volume of available spider silk, scientists at the University of Wyoming, genetically engineered goats to produce a type of protein found in spider silk, to be extracted from their milk. To do this, scientists put a spider’s dragline silk gene into goats, and then the lactating goats (or those who start to produce milk) would be able to give the milk to researchers to purify the spider silk.
There are many people who believe that genetic modification and experimentation is wrong, and that the ethics behind such research is flawed, but animal genetics research has played a crucial part in medical discoveries over the past 100 years, and continues to do so, especially in areas such as disease and medicine. However, it is important to understand the ethics for experiments like these. Scientists do not want to cause suffering in animal subjects used in experimentation, which is part of the reason the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act was passed in 1986, and this means scientists must provide a research proposal, and that research must be assessed for any harm done to the animals. Arguments are often used against animal testing, but since these Acts were implemented, there is a law to ensure that no animal genetic modification or testing will result in adverse effects on the subjects.