Scientists create glow-in-the-dark dog

No, that is not a typo.

Scientists in South Korea claim they have used cloning to produce four dogs which can glow red in the dark. While it sounds like a wacky student prank, it actually has major implications for medical science.

The four cloned beagles look perfectly normal in daylight, but several bodyparts glow red in the dark, including the nails, skin, eyes and abdomen. The entire body glows under ultraviolet light. The effect comes from a gene which produces a protein which glows.

The project involved taking canine fibroblast cells, which appear mainly in connective tissue, and injecting them with a virus which inserted the fluorescent gene into the nucleus. This nucleus was then put into an egg cell from another dog, with this cell used in an implanted embryo.

The surrogate mother gave birth to six puppies, all of which glowed, and four of whom survived. The births took place in December 2007 but have only just been publicized, likely to allow time for the project to be reviewed and confirmed by third parties.

The project was led by Lee Byeong-chun, a professor at Seoul National University. There’s bound to be some suspicion over his claims given that he was an assistant to Hwang Woo-suk, a stem cell researcher found to have faked data in the past. However, Lee’s later work, including producing the first cloned dog, has been independently verified.

While the glowing is a (literally) visible effect, the key achievement is the transplantation of a gene with a particular trait. It shows that, in principle at least, it should be possible to insert genes related to human diseases into cloned dogs. This will make it much easier to use animals to research the effects of, and cures for, genetic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

[Pictures via AFP]

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