- Giant lobster could be food of the future
- They could call it Claws. Geneticists in the U.S. are
creating the world's biggest lobster after discovering how to block the
genes that limit animals' natural growth.
- In secret laboratory experiments, they have also applied
the technique to make giant chickens, sheep and pigs and are attempting
to do the same with cattle.
- The results could revolutionize livestock and fish farming,
creating a new generation of animals whose genes have been altered in ways
that could mean up to double the meat yield. Lobsters are among the species
chosen to pioneer the technology because of their high commercial value.
- The experiments also have implications for animal-rights
campaigners who this weekend warned that such technology risked producing
mutants that would live their lives in pain and suffering.
- The giant creatures are being developed by MetaMorphix,
a company set up by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United
States. It was there that Se-Jin Lee, professor of genetics, discovered
the gene that controls myostatin, a substance which regulates muscle growth.
He created a family of mice without the gene expecting them to have less
muscle than normal only to find that he had produced a breed of super-mice.
``The mice are visually very dramatic, especially when you dissect them
and see the much bigger muscles,'' he said. Since then, Lee and MetaMorphix
have been working with livestock, such as chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle,
to see if the effect could be repeated.
- The data suggest the technique can accelerate rates of
growth in all those species by about 12 per cent and create adult animals
up to 50 per cent bigger than usual with a much higher proportion of muscle.
The MetaMorphix team has since devised ways to neutralize myostatin, ranging
from simple vaccines to genetic manipulation, to create mutant animals
that lack the controlling gene. The researchers also found that the gene
was common to a huge range of species meaning that the same approach could
be used in fish and even in shellfish.
- That discovery has been used by Cape Aquaculture Technologies
(Cat) of Massachusetts, to create giant fish; trials are under way on lobsters
and shellfish. Robert Curtis, chief executive of Cat, said he could not
identify the fish species or reveal how large his lobsters would grow but
added: ``Shrimps, mussels and scallops are also a possibility.'' Such research
is usually conducted in secret. Fifteen years ago, scientists at America's
Department of Agriculture's research centre announced that they had created
the world's first transgenic livestock.
- However, the public was not impressed when presented
with mutant pigs crippled by gastric ulcers, arthritis and other illnesses.
Changes in the genes affecting the way the animals grew had disastrous
side effects. The shocked reaction meant that almost all such research
has since been conducted away from the public eye. Among other disasters
have been giant salmon that grew far faster than normal, but then developed
humpbacks and green flesh.
- Now, however, scientists believe the results are more
acceptable. A Canadian firm, Af Protein, has created a commercially viable
transgenic super- salmon by inserting a gene from Arctic char, which makes
the fish grow faster and larger.
- Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific
Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have created a flock of 120 transgenic
``ball-of-wool'' sheep which grow faster, need less food and produce far
more wool than normal. Dr. Kevin Ward, one of CSIRO's senior scientists,
said: ``They are strong, they grow faster and bigger but they eat the same
amount of grass todo it.''
- In New Zealand, AgResearch, a government research agency,
has created the world's first herd of cloned cows from a ``parent'' renowned
for the vast amounts of milk she produced. Scientists there are also seeking
government permission to take a naturally occurring mutant gene isolated
from double-muscled Belgian blue cattle, which makes them grow exceptionally
large, and insert it into sheep.
- Such experiments anger animal campaigners. Joyce D'Silva,
director of Compassion in World Farming, said: ``These innovations are
a gross mutilation of animal physiology. Scientists need to think not just
about what is possible but also about what is ethical.''
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