Saturday, April 11, 2009

First Transgenic Dog: Adorable Puppy Glows in the Dark

ResearchBlogging.orgA post on Reporter Gene describes how a team of Korean researchers has created the first transgenic dog. She expresses red fluorescent protein (RFP) in all of her cells, causing her to glow quite nicely under normal light, and even more strongly under the wavelength of light that excites RFP. The researchers named her "Ruppy," a contraction of "ruby puppy." And, I must say, she's adorable.



Above: Ruppy, the first transgenic dog. In panels b and c, Ruppy's paw is compared to the paw of a dog that does not express RFP.

"Transgenic" simply means expressing a "transgene," or a gene normally found in another organism. Transgenic mice are commonly used to study human genes in a model organism, because mice are small, easy to work with, and their genome has been well-characterized over the years. Not many other transgenic species are available. Transgenic rats are in the works in many places -- helpful because although rats may look like they're just big mice, they're actually more intelligent than their smaller rodent cousins. Transgenic rats allow us to combine powerful genetic manipulations with a wider variety of behavioral assays. Finally, some scientists at Emory have created transgenic monkeys to use in the study of neurodegenerative disease. Non-human primates may be the best way to model the human brain, and some rodent models of neurodegenerative disease don't produce the same symptoms as in humans. One reason might be that the human symptoms take many years to accumulate, and mice only have about a two-year lifespan. Transgenic monkeys may help us better understand the diseases than a rat or mouse would.

As someone who has kept dogs as pets, it's hard for me to think about using them as research animals. Beagles like Ruppy (and like my beloved pet, Teddy) are a common breed used for research because of their small size and gentle temperament (terriers are also small, for example, but they are more aggressive). While I recognize the importance of research that's been conducted in dogs, I'm not sure that I could personally work in a lab that studies them, due to my emotional involvement with the species. Happily, the use of dogs and cats in research has been declining (down by over 50% since 1979, according to the CDC), as scientists have found ways to conduct their experiments in rodents or in non-animal models. The smaller number of dogs still used for research are kept by thoughtful scientists who attempt to minimize their stress and provide them with a comfortable environment. Transgenic dogs like Ruppy will help those who still must use companion animals for their experiments develop less invasive techniques for studying these model organisms.

Hong, S., Kim, M., Jang, G., Oh, H., Park, J., Kang, J., Koo, O., Kim, T., Kwon, M., Koo, B., Ra, J., Kim, D., Ko, C., & Lee, B. (2009). Generation of red fluorescent protein transgenic dogs. Genesis DOI: 10.1002/dvg.20504

11 comments:

  1. I've got to admit my horror about certain aspects that you have reported. [i have a terrier thus I am not so worried]

    What's the point?

    I didn't mean to be anonymous. No other choice worked . I come here as a result of your post on FB.

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  2. WRONG! NOT FB!! SORRY!

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  3. Hmm, Name/URL should work for everyone... I'll look into it.

    I think the point is that while it can be hard to think about your favorite species being used for experiments, the sympathetic nature of dogs may help to ensure their welfare. And, new transgenic technologies may allow us to replace more invasive techniques with genetic ones in this species, which I'd say is a good thing.

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  4. but whats the point of a glow in the dark dog?

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  5. the point is not the glow in the dark as much as it is a proof of concept. RFP is an easy to insert gene that is exceptionally easy to trace because all you need is a light to see that the insertion was successful. Fluorescence is typically used as a marker on other, more useful genes to make it easier to track success rates. Ideally, now that we know that gene insertion is possible in dogs other genes/trials for new therapies can now take place.

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  6. You say that you wouldn't want to do research on dogs because of your emotional involvement with your species and you go on to say that the reducing number of scientists that use dogs for research tend to be thoughtful ones.

    So shouldn't you be okay researching dogs so long as, as you say, provide them with a comfortable environment and treat them well?

    In fact, it would be better to have people with emotional involvement with dogs doing research on dogs! It is better to have someone sympathetic with a species, researching them, than someone apathetic, for example.

    So, if you still have an objection, isn't really due to a principle against doing research on a species of that level of cognitive function without them consenting? This is more probable, but it could also be an objection to having the animal confined, perhaps yielding psychological issues.

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  7. Whoops!:

    "You say that you wouldn't want to do research on dogs because of your emotional involvement with XyourX their species and you go on to say that the reducing number of scientists that use dogs for research tend to be thoughtful ones."

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  8. Hi Laura,

    I liked your post, but mostly I just wanted to say thank you for your candor and for mentioning Ruppy's and other test animal's welfare. It's a difficult and emotional subject and I think it's really important that we (meaning those of us who work with research animals) keep their welfare in the public discussion. Thanks for being sensitive to it.

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  9. Anonymous, thanks for your comment. You bring up some good points. You said, "If you still have an objection, isn't really due to a principle against doing research on a species of that level of cognitive function without them consenting? This is more probable, but it could also be an objection to having the animal confined, perhaps yielding psychological issues."

    I'd like to make this clear: I do not object to scientific research on dogs. And their level of cognitive function doesn't have much to do with it. I've never worked with cats, but I think I'd find myself better equipped to do that, simply because I've never kept one as a pet. (I am allergic to them, though, which would complicate both the work and pet angles.) I've eaten plenty of higher mammals that should be nearly as smart as cats and dogs (some say pigs are smarter) without guilt, although these days I only buy meat from local organic farms where the animals are pastured and certified humanely slaughtered.

    What I object to, somewhat irrationally I will admit, is me doing scientific research on dogs. I think you're right about the importance of having committed, sensitive scientists who care about the animals' welfare work on these projects, and I hope those who've seen my work with research animals (rodents) would agree that I treat them thoughtfully. I simply have a "NIMBY" feeling about dogs -- I don't think that it's wrong for someone else to do, but I don't want to get involved. I'd equate it to someone who is pro-choice even though she personally would not ever choose an abortion (just to bring up some even more controversial topics for you!). The fact that I am personally uncomfortable with something does not mean it should be generally prohibited.

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  10. Good one! check out some transgenic cartoony stuff on valdo search engine : http://vadlo.com/cartoons.php?id=83

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  11. I'm just wondering if what's the essence of having glow in the dark dog ???? it might be interesting one but probably it's hooey :(

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