redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
A team of scientists from Uruguay have genetically modified a flock of nine young sheep, causing the lambs to glow in the dark whenever they are exposed to ultraviolet light.
According to Slashgear´s Brian Sin, the scientists altered the creatures using the fluorescent protein from an Aequorea jellyfish. The sheep, which were born last October at the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay, give off a glowing green color when exposed to some types of UV rays but are said to be developing normally.
“We did not use a protein of medical interest or to help with a particular medicine because we wanted to fine-tune the technique,” lead researcher Alejo Menchaca said, according to James A. Foley of Nature World News. “We used the green protein because the color is easily identifiable in the sheep’s tissues.”
Menchaca added that the lambs have been spending as much time out in the field as their non-genetically modified counterparts, but in “better conditions, not the traditional breeding system.” He also was quoted by Foley as saying that the creatures were being “well looked after, well fed and very much loved.”
Menchaca, who worked on the project alongside Martina Crisp of the Pasteur Institute, told Merco Press, “The technique is complex and demands much work and is one of the limiting factors, so despite the global interest and demand it is still a slow process. Our focus is generating knowledge, make it public so the scientific community can be informed and help in the long run march to generate tools so humans can live better, but we´re not out in the market to sell technology.”
Menchaca explained that scientists can select a specific gene with biological or pharmaceutical value to humans, and then add it to the embryo of a cow, lamb, goat or similar creature so that the gene is incorporated into that animal´s DNA. Once it grows and matures, the creature can produce milk that contains that substance of interest. That milk then undergoes a complex procedure which makes it available for consumption so that people can benefit from it.
“While these sheep may be the first glow-in-the-dark sheep to exist, they´re not the first living creatures that scientists have genetically modified,” Sin said. “Scientists have also genetically modified zebrafish using the same green fluorescent protein from the Aequorea jelly fish to make them glow-in-the-dark. These zebrafish were them renamed ℠GloFish´ and have since been genetically modified using various other [fluorescent color] proteins.”