Researchers have produced genetically modified animals that they say could serve as “superfar” or “surrogate father”.
Pigs, goats, cattle and mice produce sperm that carry the donor’s genetic material.
The researchers used a hi-tech gene editing tool to knock out a male fertility gene in animal embryos.
The animals were born sterile but began producing sperm after an injection of sperm-producing cells from donor animals.
The technique would allow surrogate men to breed offspring that carry the genetic material of valuable elite animals as prize bulls, a U.S.-British team said.
This would be a step towards genetically improving livestock to improve food production, they added.
Prof Jon Oatley, of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said: “This could have a major impact on tackling food insecurity around the world. If we can tackle this genetically, it means less water, less feed and fewer antibiotics we have to put in the animals. “
What did the experiment show?
It was confirmed that the surrogate acids had active donor sperm. And the mice had healthy offspring that carried the sperm donor’s genes.
The larger animals have not yet been bred. But Professor Bruce Whitelaw of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh said the study provided strong evidence of the concept.
“This shows the world that this technology is real. It can be used,” he said. “We now need to go in and figure out how we can best use it productively to feed our growing population.”
According to the researchers, the technology could also help conserve endangered species.
For example, it may be possible to use the frozen semen from an endangered rhino to regenerate the species. But they said the speed at which science could be translated will be influenced by politicians.
Genetically modified livestock is not yet approved for human consumption with concerns about product safety, ethics and animal welfare.
What is genre editing?
Genetic editing involves deleting or changing coding in embryos. An example of current technology is CRISPR, a biological system for altering DNA discovered in 2012.
CRISPR scans the genome for the location of a specific gene and then uses “molecular scissors” to cut through the DNA.
Although effective in the laboratory, the process is less than perfect and can cut out too much DNA. These unwanted edits could change other important nuisances.
What are the ethical issues?
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics investigates the ethical issues raised by the use of gene editing techniques in farmed animals.
Potential applications of gene editing technology include genetically hornless cows and pigs or chickens that are disease resistant.
Gene editing can be part of the response to many of the challenges facing communities in different parts of the world, including ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food, said Director Hugh Whittall.
“Whether and to what extent genome editing can and should be implemented outside the research setting depends on further research and development that progresses in line with societal values and interests, which in many cases are not yet clearly defined,” he told BBC News.
“This is among the issues we are examining in our current study on genome editing and farmed animals.”
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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