Researchers in China have created a genetically modified sheep containing more healthy fats. The research is aimed at creating genetically altered farm animals which could be reared to produce more healthy meat alternatives.
Scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) in Shenzhen in southern China have created a ‘genetically modified’ sheep designed to be made up of more healthy body mass, according to Science. The cloned sheep has been named Peng Peng, and was of the Chinese Merino variety.
According to The Daily Mail, the scientists, led by Du Yutao, took a gene from a roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, which is known to produce polyunsaturated fatty acids, and implanted into the genome of the sheep. In fact, Du and colleagues inserted the gene that is linked to the production of polyunsaturated fatty acids into a donor cell taken from the ear of a Chinese Merino sheep. The cell was then inserted into an unfertilized egg and implanted into the womb of a surrogate sheep. The lamb was born on March 26 in China’s Xinjiang region.
The objective of the research is to lower the more harmful saturated fats in the animal and to ensure that the animal consists of higher levels of polyunsaturated fats.
Fat can be divided into two main groups - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature and is usually from animal sources. Eating too much saturated fat is associated with increased blood cholesterol concentrations and an increased risk of heart disease. Unsaturated vegetable oils are generally a healthier alternative to saturated fat and can be found in sesame, sunflower, soya, olive and rapeseed oil.
Gizmo quotes the lead scientist as saying “The gene was originally from the C. elegans (roundworm), which has been shown (in previous studies) to increase unsaturated fatty acids which is very good for human health.”
Metro notes that the birth of Peng Peng follows the creation of other transgenic farm animals with enhanced abilities to produce more healthy fats. Last year, for example, Chinese and Argentine research teams independently reported the successful incorporation of human milk genes into dairy cows.
It could be some time before so-termed transgenic meat is on general sale.