Sci­en­tists edit genes to breed col­or­ful sheep

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By XIN­HUA in Urumqi

A team of Chi­nese sci­en­tists in the Xin­jiang au­ton­o­mous re­gion have suc­cess­fully used a gene edit­ing tech­nique to breed five sheep with col­ored fleece.

The re­searchers in Urumqi used a tech­nique called CRISPR-Cas9, also known as the “molec­u­lar Swiss army knife”, to al­ter the color of the an­i­mals’ coats on a ge­netic level — paving the way for col­ored wool that does not need to be dyed.

Cur­rently liv­ing at the Xin­jiang Academy of Zootech­ni­cal Science, the sheep have eye­catch­ing fleeces, with some re­sem­bling cows, oth­ers Dal­ma­tion dogs and one look­ing like an un­stirred cap­puc­cino.

“The lambs, born in March, have be­come our pets,” said Liu Mingjun, head re­searcher.

Ac­cord­ing to Liu, this is the first time that sci­en­tists have al­tered the color of a large an­i­mal’s coat us­ing the CRISPR-Cas9 tech­nique. Pre­vi­ous ex­per­i­ments on color al­ter­ation were lim­ited to mice.

The break­through means that con­sumers in fu­ture will be able to pur­chase col­or­ful wool prod­ucts that do not need to be dyed, Liu said, while other ap­pli­ca­tions in­clude us­ing the tech­nique on pets, mak­ing their fur color cus­tom­iz­a­ble.

Liu’s team se­lected ASIP, a key gene af­fect­ing the color of a sheep’s fleece, to edit for the de­sired col­ors.

The CRISPR- Cas9 tech­nique was in­vented in 2012 at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley in the US. It al­lows sci­en­tists to se­lec­tively trim away un­wanted parts of an an­i­mal’s genome and re­place them with new strings of DNA.

“The ap­pli­ca­tion to large an­i­mals in­di­cates more strains of an­i­mals, not lim­ited to live­stock, will be de­vel­oped via the ap­proach, with dif­fer­ent pat­terns not lim­ited to coat col­ors,” Liu said.

“Com­pared with tra­di­tional gene mu­ta­tion ap­proaches in which re­searchers take decades to breed a new strain, gene edit­ing is more much ef­fec­tive.”

Liu’s team used the tech­nique last year to breed 38 sheep that had en­hanced mus­cle and wool growth.

SHEN QIAO / XIN­HUA

Re­searchers at the Xin­jiang Academy of Zootech­ni­cal Science with the five sheep they have bred with gene edit­ing tech­nique in Urumqi, the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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