In a medical breakthrough that is as terrifying as it is extraordinary, scientists in China say they have created dogs that are twice as strong as they would be naturally, through genetic engineering. The process used could help prevent human diseases, according to scientists who led the study, which was published by the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology in mid-October.
“There is certainly the potential for this model to help fight human diseases. The process we have been developing could help prevent muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease,” Professor Xiang Gao told CNN.
Gao, who led the project with Liangxue Lai, is a specialist in genetic engineering at Nanjing University in China. The two modified beagles, named Hercules and Tiangou, had the myostatin gene deleted at the embryo stage. Myostatin inhibits muscle growth in animals, so the dogs were able to grow unnaturally bigger, more muscular, and stronger. The process involved the introduction of gene-editing chemicals into around 60 dog embryos. The myostatin gene was successfully knocked out of only two of the dogs.
“The mutant dogs look much stronger than the others. They are overgrown in the thighs,” Gao said. “We have not observed any negative side effects. The dogs are not in pain.” Their larger size and strength is expected to allow them to be better and stronger runners. “Their extra strength means that they may have uses in hunting, even the military,” said Professor Gao. Elaine Ostrander, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, told the MIT Technology Review that we should not rush to conclusions from the study. “The number of dogs is still small … It will be interesting to see what types of variation come up as more dogs undergo the process,” she said.