Genetically Manipulated Animals

Perhaps the most arrogant of all ways in which we treat animals is to tinker with their genetic make-up and attempt to alter their very structure. We seek to rise above nature and play God by trying to change in our laboratories the very programme of nature. The desire to genetically manipulate the most complex life form on earth — the animal — can be traced to two sources:
• Naked greed to extract the maximum possible from animals and have to deal with nothing that is commercially not of use; and
• The desire (due to economic compulsions) to develop new strains of animals
that would adapt to the altered circumstances we impose upon them.

Tinkering Life Forms is a Sin

This genetic manipulation is euphemistically called ‘breeding’ and examples of it abound in every sector of the animal industry: cattle are bred to maximise their yield of milk, some for more meat and less bone; chicken for tender flesh and eggs; and sheep for more wool — the list is endless. Interestingly, in 1965, by crossing the Wiltshire Horn with other breeds of sheep, the Easy Care breed was developed by a farmer in UK. The breed requires minimal shepherding and veterinary care because in summer the sheep shed their wool and require no shearing. Prince Charles has rightly felt it is the “ultimate horror” – after all the sheep are freaks, cross-bred for human convenience.

Researchers in the Animal Research Institute of Agriculture in Canada boast of trying to “…breed animals without legs and chickens without feathers” so that these appendages of the animals’ bodies which are useless from the point of view of converting to meat, don’t have to be dealt with. On similar lines the Hebrew University in Israel have bred featherless chicken for warm climates which they say is faster growing, and as no plucking is needed, money will be saved by processing plants. In short, lives don’t count – only money matters.

Dutch scientists from the Maastricht University of the Netherlands have used stem cells to create strips of muscle tissue with the aim of producing the first lab-grown hamburger in 2012. Ironically the aim of the research is to develop a more efficient way of producing meat than rearing animals! Although they say that 100 grams of vegetable protein has to be fed to pigs or cows to produce 15 grams of animal protein, an efficiency of as much as 15%, they do not think the solution lies in people consuming less or no meat. BWC feels meat is meat and can never be considered veg. Ethical concerns apart, unhealthy antibiotics and antifungal chemicals would be required to stop the synthetic meat from rotting.

To satisfy the desire of anglers to catch fish which put up a fight when hooked, several variations of ‘wipers’ are produced by biologists. This breed does not exist in nature but is a hybrid. Such research has caused countless severely deformed offspring. Sophisticated genetic manipulations continue to exploit fish not only for food but also for sport.

Closer home, scientists at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) have reported that “removal of eyes from a particular species of lobster has shown to improve its weight phenomenally”. In this unimaginably cruel experiment, the eye stalks are cut and sealed with a soldering iron. The report says that the results of this experiment carried out at the Kovalam Field Research Laboratory of the CMFRI “throws up enormous possibilities for culturing lobsters — the most expensive of seafood.”

The Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture offers a technology of mono-sex for Tilapia fish required to be fed a steroid supplementary diet so that in about a month’s time the females get the characteristics of male fish and grow faster. As these fish feed in daylight their tanks are exposed to bright lights at night to facilitate quick weight gain, as in the case of poultry.

Other reports talk of “the commercial success of the BST hormone which enhances milk yield in cows”, and the coming of “a whole new flock of genetically engineered products which include a recombinant growth hormone for pigs which has been shown to reduce pork-fat by thirty per cent; a cow whose milk contains human proteins; and alligators genetically altered to ‘manufacture’ blood containing human haemoglobin so as to deliver the higher oxygen capacity required during surgery.”

Another source states: “In a desperate attempt to increase the yields of North Atlantic fishing, US researchers at the University of Maryland have created carp and catfish with the gene of trout growth hormone, and found that they grow twice as fast as unaltered fish. Genetic engineers have armed Atlantic salmon with the gene for winter antifreeze protein and have extended their range into cold waters.”

An October 2010 news item states that “Frankenfish” and “Frankenpig” (genetically modified salmon and pig) are the next-gen foods. GM Atlantic salmon for human consumption is expected to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The salmon’s added genes allow it to grow to market size in half the time of wild salmon.

Meanwhile, in Canada, pigs were engineered to produce less phosphorus waste. Moral aspects of altering natural DNA of animals to change their characteristics were overlooked, as were food safety and environmental impact. In January 2011 the scientists announced that they had successfully created a new generation of genetically modified Enviro-pigs which they said were greener and fit for human consumption. Enviro-pigs they say look, sound and taste like normal pigs but have had genes from mice and Ecoli bacteria inserted into their DNA and have been designed to produce their own phytase. In reality, the pigs are any thing but environmentally friendly and their creation points to more intensive farming.

Dolly, Polly, others and more Dollies

On the genetic engineering front is the widely publicised sheep called Dolly (named after the singer Dolly Parton), a lamb developed from a single cell taken from a mammary gland after 277 earlier attempts having failed, by a British scientists at the Roslin Institute in 1996, from a cell derived of an adult tissue. In 2003 she was administered a lethal injection after they discovered arthritis and signs of progressing lung disease.

This was followed by Polly, a cloned lamb containing human genes, born 1997, died unknown.

In 2010 the same scientist who cloned Dolly created 4 more Dollies from the same sample tissue that was kept in a freezer. (He had announced in 2007 that the nuclear transfer technique may never be sufficiently efficient for use in humans.) They were exact genetic copies of their predecessor who was put down (killed) at age 7 as she was suffering from advanced lung disease and arthritis. (The life span of this breed of sheep is 11 to 12 years.) The 4 genetically-identical copies of Dolly were named Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy. In 2016 the quadruplets were said to be in pretty good health by the researchers who studied whether cloned animals could live long healthy lives.

Then scientists in United States produced a calf named Mr. Jefferson in the same way as Dolly. American researchers reported a success rate of only about 12%. The main aim of producing cloned cattle is to obtain large quantities of human serum albumin used mainly in trauma patients. Cloning cows will, it is also hoped by the Japanese and American researchers make it possible to build herds that duplicate those that are ideal beef and milk producers. In fact, cloned beef has been in the Japanese market for long and in America cloned cows (disgustingly with big abnormal sized udders capable of producing up to 15 gallons of milk a day) and pigs, and their milk and meat (beef and pork) are available privately; and newer cloning techniques continue to be experimented upon. Injaz (achievement in Arabic) is the 12th domestic camel species to be cloned, was produced at Dubai’s Camel Reproduction Centre in April 2009. The animal is the clone of a camel slaughtered for its meat.

Problems like sudden death syndrome are why the Humane Society, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Center for Food Safety have asked the FDA to ban cloning or mandate ‘clone-free’ labels. However, in 2010 the US Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes said it believed the food was unlikely to present any risk. Meanwhile, the European Commission proposes to ban meat and milk from clones and their offspring. To increase milk and meat production, farmers from US, South America and Asia can breed from cloned cows, sheep and pigs; but, farmers in Europe require specific authorisation to do so because they are considered “novel foods”.

Chinese scientists have claimed that they have developed the first transgenic goat which produces milk containing human genes and which can be used in the treatment of haemophilia.

A cardiac surgeon at the Frontier Lifeline Hospital, Chennai, in 2011 felt that transgenic pigs were the future source of organs for humans. They had already been using pig tissues like heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys, on humans since they matched well. There is an increasing availability of pigs that have undergone genetic modifications to protect tissues to be transplanted from human immune response. Further more, scientists hope that with successful storage methods, pig corneas, islet and cells (including red blood cells) could be successfully transported from a developed country where genetically engineered animals would be bred and housed to a developing country where need for the biological product is great. Only talk of transplantation from genetically-modified pigs, equipped with genes to protect them from the human immune response to meet the shortage of organs and cells from human corpses, is focused upon. There is nothing, nothing at all, to indicate ethical views have been considered regarding genetically manipulating, torturing and killing pigs for their body-parts which might benefit humans.

In 2010 scientists at the Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA created a new kind of transgenic prairie vole in the hope that these tiny rodents could be the key to understanding bonding, trust and even decision-making in humans.

Also in 2010 human brain stem cells have also been grown in rats and the claimed medical breakthrough by a team from the University of Florida is expected to help in the treatment of Parkinson’s and epilepsy patients.

A Mayo Clinic (USA) research team in 2011 genetically engineered a strain of mice in which all the senescent cells could be purged by administering a drug that forced the cells to self-destruct. These cells otherwise accumulate in ageing tissues like arthritic knees, cataracts, plaque in arteries, wrinkles and so on. Similarly, American scientists at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies that found that boosting a gene in fruit-flies resulted in stimulating stem cells that replenish intestinal tissues, thus suggesting that the aging process could be slowed. The effect of extending lifespan was found to be no different as when calorie intake of any organism is restricted.

Until 2011 rodents were primarily used to make chimeras or lab animals which contain genetically distinct group of cells from more than one organism, however in a genetic mash-up US scientists at the Oregon National Primate Centre created primates by merging cells from six different embryos resulting in primates called Roku, Hex and Chimero.

Simultaneously, also ignoring ethical concerns, researchers from McGill University, Canada claimed to have developed “super-soldier” ants with huge heads and jaws by activating ancient ancestral genes.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai’s team after many attempts (of playing God and torturing creation) in 2018 succeeded cloning two monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, using the same technique that produced Dolly the sheep in 1996.

As scientists in most countries are developing several transgenic animals, such experiments are of deep concern to supporters of animal rights and to thinkers on ethical, philosophical and theological issues. Often animals thus born have fatal bleeding disorders like the cloned calf in Japan which died 16 hours
after it was born, can’t nurse or reproduce, are susceptible to tumours, crippled with arthritis, or suffer from diabetes or kidney diseases. The implications can have long-term effects that are unknown and harmful. Sometimes it so happens that the mother of the cloned animal dies after giving birth or the cloned animal may be too weak to survive and thus several animals get sacrificed for the sake of such experiments. The technology is still at early stages and one in three cloned animals is born abnormally large or with other developmental problems, e.g. a rat with a huge ear grown on its back. Umpteen such negative happenings are rarely covered by the media but when ever it has been ‘successful’ in commercially cloning pet dogs, it makes global headlines and again when the cloned animal reproduces offspring.

Spider silk was known as Nephila silk but it was found to be difficult to commercially produce. In 2000 Nexia, a Canadian biotech company began research to produce spider silk protein in transgenic goats. The goats carried the gene of spider silk protein and the milk produced by the goats contained significant quantities of the protein to produce Biosteel, however, Nexia is still continuing research for product development of Biosteel. Hagfish, when captured escape by secreting a fibrous slime which includes threadlike fibres similar to spider silk so research to utilise these fibres is also being undertaken.

Corporate Benefits with no Ethical Concerns

Animals (and humans) have a right to their own identity and their own genetic make-up, which should not be replicated. The only thing that technology improves are corporate prospects for mass-producing animals that yield leaner meat or more meat, generate high quantities of human proteins that can be harvested for the pharmaceutical trade, or even provide spare parts for humans needing organ transplants thus turning animals into chemical factories. For example, an American company, Biopure has developed artificial blood for humans called Hemopure derived from cattle, i.e. haemoglobin that has been taken out of the red blood cells of cattle.

GTC Biotherapeutics Inc (Massachusetts, USA) genetically modified goats to produce human protein in their milk which if consumed by humans, supposedly would prevent blood clotting. If approved by the FDA, scientists hope to produce new products (for treating haemophilia, respiratory diseases and debilitating swollen tissues) from other genetically altered animals like cows and rabbits as well.

Even mosquitoes haven’t been spared. Genetically engineered male mosquitoes were released in Malaysia and Brazil (where laws are lax) for mating to produce offspring with shorter lives. This was followed by Oxitec, an America company reporting initial success from the first release in the Grand Cayman Island of mosquitoes engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, killing them before they reach adulthood. This release into the environment will undoubtedly result in many more genetically modified insects to control insect-borne diseases and agricultural pests. The scientists claim that the technique used is an extension of having earlier released millions of radiated sterile insects which mated with wild ones and produced no offspring.

In September 2013 thousands of GM insects developed by British scientists were set to be released into fields across Europe as an alternative to chemical pesticides. The company Oxitec would release male GM olive flies that would mate with the wild females and whose offspring would die at the larvae stage, thus controlling the olive flies that were considered pests. No thought has been given to those animals that eat olive flies as to what would happen to them and this is obviously only one of the main concerns.

Bearing in mind that only female mosquitoes bite and the female is a carrier of malaria, in 2014 the Imperial College, London, genetically modified a strain of mosquitoes that produce 95% male offspring. And so such research continues with “improvements” such as making the GM gene inheritable.

With new technology scientists plan resurrecting entire species which went extinct within the last 60,000 years (the effective age limit for DNA) from which hair, horn, hooves or fur can be obtained. They feel that if the genome of an extinct species can be reconstructed, biologists can work out the exact DNA differences with the genome of its nearest living relative. For example, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) of Hyderabad is working on a project of gathering and storing genetic material of wildlife species in a DNA bank which later may be used to resurrect extinct species like India’s cheetah. As the animal is still found in Iran the CCMB hopes to procure some tissue/cell samples for cloning, using a leopard as surrogate mother.

Gene therapy research (comprising of hit-or-miss experiments) is considered prestigious in America. The glow-in-the-dark cat is a result of a genetic experiment in which an orange tabby was cloned at the Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans, USA. The gene introduced produces a protein that glows fluorescent green in the dark. And, the University of Pennsylvania claims to have made elderly dogs young by giving them an injection in the liver which switches off the gene that produces myostatin, a protein which inhibits muscle growth. Although touted as great for old pet dogs, believe it or not, regulators are debating whether after the procedure the dogs would need to be quarantined due to possible risks to humans who come into contact with their waste. The bulldog did not always have the sort of snout it has today. There were people who thought it would enhance their aesthetic appeal to have short snouts, so the newborn puppies started having their snouts pressed in by hand. You wouldn't think so today, since bulldog pups are born that way. Their genetically-manipulated, compressed snouts cause them breathing problems at the slightest exertion.

Unfortunately India has not banned genetic engineering and cloning of farm animals aimed at boosting egg, meat or milk production. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee did however in August 2010 oppose the development of transgenic chicken at the Project Directorate on Poultry, Hyderabad.

The sad thing is that in India, such research is looked upon with great respect and admiration, with little realisation that new animals generate new diseases that humans will be ill-equipped to treat. There is even nobility associated with such development research, because the ends that are sought are ostensibly for the cause of human beings. As has become a habit with us, we seek to emulate everything of the West without screening it through our own standards of good and bad. Not to be left behind in the race for trying our hand at altering nature’s course, Indian scientists vie with each other to produce cows with better milk yields. Super-ovulation and Embryo Transfer Technology (ETT) are tried out in addition to artificial insemination. Results achieved in the yield-increasing race are published with pride and reported to be our deliverers from starvation or, in general, poverty. Ironically, organisations such as Pinjrapoles (in many cases unfortunately run as dairies) and those using the name of Mahatma Gandhi like the Sabarmati Ashram Goshala (Ahmedabad) are the nerve centres for such research, development and training activities. The National Dairy Development Board (Anand) with the assistance of the National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi), the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI, Karnal) and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (Izatnagar), has started propagating ETT on a countrywide basis. The National Research Centre on Camel on the outskirts of Bikaner at Jorbeer also subject different camel herds to the unnatural ETT and selective breeding for genetic improvement of indigenous breeds and the females have been made to super ovulate and with the aim of reproducing thrice, instead of twice, in two years.

The activities and outcome of the projects undertaken our Indian institutions do not seem to be much different to the biotech multi-national giant Monsanto’s genetically engineered hormone injections called Posilac which increases milk production in cows. The injections also result in increasing infections in the animals, in addition to which the hormone remains in the milk that’s consumed by humans. However, due to tremendous concern over its effect on human health Monsanto sold this business to Eli Lilly & Co to be absorbed into their Elanco animal health unit.

American artificial insemination companies have begun selling sorted sexed bovine semen which promises 85-90% cows to dairy farmers in Punjab.

Bizarre to the Extreme

It’s scary…

Chinese scientists have produced genetically modified cows whose milk is 80% the same as human breast milk. It was done by introducing human genetic coding into the DNA of Holstein dairy cow embryos, then transferring the embryos into cow surrogates. By 2011, 300 cloned cattle were at the experimental farm in Beijing which was started in 2003. An affordable form of the milk was expected to be marketed by 2014 after completion of clinical trials for safety on humans.

American scientists have been working on bioengineering meat by taking stem cells from an animal and immersing them in a plant derived mixture of nutrients in order to develop “in-vitro meat”. It is expected to be commercially sold before this decade ends.

The Institute for Responsible Technology reported that scientists had undertaken genetic engineering by breaching species barriers. Some of them were:

• Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bullet-proof vests.

• Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.

• Arctic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
• Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.

• Potatoes were developed that glowed in the dark when they needed watering. This was also done by implanting florescent genes from jellyfish.

• Human genes were inserted into corn to product spermicide.

In addition to inserting human genes in corn, human genes are also engineered with sugarcane and rice, field trials for which are underway some where in the world.

Nature gave living organism barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, so genetic engineers found ways to force the DNA from one organism to another. These include:

• Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.

• Coating DNA onto tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.

• Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.

• Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then, forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.

Samrupa and Garima

A project between the World Bank and Indian Council of Agricultural Research costing Rs 7 crore aims at developing technology to enhance the population of high-yielding, elite buffalos. In its quest to increase milk production, in 2009 scientists of the NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre at Karnal (Punjab) cloned a buffalo and called it Samrupa. Although this female calf died due to pneumonia six days after its birth, similar “experiments” continued using a new hand-guided cloning technique in which the sex of the calf could be determined. The second clone was aborted, however, a third cloned buffalo calf named Garima was successfully cloned with tissue from foetus tissue instead of taking tissue from the ear of a female buffalo as was the case last time. This “prized research material” (read buffalo calf) survived in an air- conditioned intensive care unit with round the clock care and weighed 170 kgs as against 130 kgs of calves her age of 5½ months old. Garima was not allowed to mix with her kind because calves are playful and bite each other. The cloning project was furthered with another cloned buffalo Garima II born in August 2010. The seventh (of which three died) cloned buffalo calf Lalima was produced in May 2014.

The milk we buy might very likely be the result of experiments performed upon animals in any of the breeding laboratories that the government supports using tax-payers’ money. The material benefit of this research is indirectly supported by us, the consumers who purchase the products.

While indirectly supporting such research, do any of us think about how it must feel to have our bodies altered so that we grow twice as fast or to have other creatures’ hormones flowing in our blood? Do women who use milk of genetically doctored cows or from cows which are administered Oxytocin (drug used for women in labour to increase contractions) stop to think about how they would feel if their bodies were made to produce many times the milk that their babies could consume? What discomfort and pain accompanies an abnormally growing body part? Unless and until we imagine ourselves in the position of the animal victim, we will not be able to appreciate what it feels like to have one’s body be considered a commodity for the beneficial use of another species.

Reverence for Life

To conclude, genetic manipulation is becoming the order of the day. Man playing creator with innocent animal lives is the first step towards scientists wanting to manipulate humans. We need no freaks. Research and reverence for all life can go hand in hand without tinkering with and cloning innocent lives.

It was heartening to know that a 2011 survey sponsored by Agriculture Canada found that the level of support among Canadians for GM fish (“Frankenfish”) and other animals had since 2006 decreased by 13% with 29% not approving of any GM animals under any circumstance.
Page last updated on 14/02/18