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Tag: biology

Chinese scientists clone the world’s first primate; two macaque monkeys are born

monkeys_16x9leashes1

Nearly 13 years after the cloning of a dog, the species man is emotionally closest to, Chinese scientists have announced the first successful cloning of the animal man is physically closest to — the monkey.

Using the same basic technique that created Dolly the sheep in Scotland, the world’s first cloned mammal, and Snuppy the Afghan hound in South Korea, scientists in China produced two identical clones of a macaque, reigniting concerns among some that attempts to clone man are on the horizon.

The newborns — the world’s first cloned primates — were named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, after a Mandarin term for the Chinese nation and people.

The two healthy baby macaques were the only ones to survive to birth out of 127 altered egg cells implanted into more than 60 surrogate mothers.

The scientists behind the project said they followed the techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer, but made a few refinements along the way. Unlike with Dolly and Snuppy, fetal cells were used rather than adult ones

Mu-ming Poo, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, who led the work, said further refinement of their methods would lead to higher success rates, Combining the cloning with gene editing will allow researchers to create “ideal nonhuman primate models” for studying disease mechanisms and screening drugs, he said.

So in answer to the seldom asked (at least by scientists) question — why clone monkeys? — that’s your immediate answer: As fodder for laboratory experiments.

The team behind the monkey cloning acknowledges that the work raises ethical questions, but Poo said he doubted it would lead to cloning man: “I would think society and the general public and governments will not allow extension of this method from nonhuman primates to humans.”

Science magazine reports that ethicists are also concerned about the monkeys themselves. “At present, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that there are no alternatives to using macaque monkeys for such research,” Peter Dabrock, an ethicist at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, wrote in a statement.

Using nonhuman primates for research is more accepted in China than in the West, Poo said, adding “Once we demonstrate the cloned monkey’s usefulness in curing disease, I hope [Western societies] will gradually change their minds.”

He said the group is following international guidelines for the treatment and care of their monkeys.

Scientists around the world have cloned more than 20 species since Dolly the sheep was created in 1996, including dog, cat, horses, pigs, cows, rabbits, rats and mice,

Attempts to clone primates, however, had been unsuccessful, and some experts suspected primates might be resistant to the procedure.

The Chinese team reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the journal Cell that it’s difficult, but possible. The team succeeded, after many attempts, by using modulators to switch on or off certain genes that were inhibiting embryo development.

In all, it took more than 100 egg cells — merged with donor cells and implanted into surrogates — to produce two live macaque births.

Using adult cells, they achieved 22 pregnancies in 42 surrogates. That produced two births but neither survived. When they cloned using fetal monkey cells, six pregnancies were confirmed in 21 surrogates and yielded two healthy babies.

While the scientists celebrate their achievement, animal welfare groups, including PETA, condemned it.

“Cloning is a horror show: A waste of lives, time, and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” said Dr. Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK. “Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”

(Photo: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo/Chinese Academy of Sciences)

South Korean university announces that Snuppy has been recloned

reclonedsnuppy

The world’s first canine clone — an Afghan hound named Snuppy who died in 2015 — has been recloned, scientists at Seoul National University in Korea have announced.

It’s no big surprise, and it’s no huge achievement, but the scientists say they created the three clones of Snuppy to “immortalize” the “milestone” Snuppy represented — and that the clones will allow them to further study the lifespan of cloned dogs.

Snuppy, who spent most of his life in a laboratory, died at age 10 in April 2015.

“Three healthy reclones of Snuppy are alive, and as with Snuppy we do not anticipate that the reclones will go through an accelerated rate of aging or will be more prone to develop diseases than naturally bred animals,” the team wrote in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature.

To create the new clones, the scientists used fat-derived stem cells taken from Snuppy when he was five years old.

The stem cells were taken from his belly fat and frozen. Years later, they were thawed, grown in culture and then injected into enucleated eggs taken from female donors. The reconstituted eggs were then zapped with an electrical shock to fuse the membranes of the egg and stem cells. Ninety-four of them were transferred to surrogate female dogs.

Four resulted in births, but one of the pups died four days after it was born from severe diarrhea, the scientists reported.

The three remaining dogs will also live their lives in the lab, being monitored and undergoing tests the scientist say they suspect will dispel the notion that cloned animals die early deaths.

They say the second generation of Snuppy clones will contribute to a “new era” in the study of the health and longevity of cloned animals, and that they might contribute to cures being found for human diseases.

But with dog cloning having become big business — and having been initially researched with profits in mind — it’s no surprise that the latest research, funded in part by the Korean government, aims to dispel the thinking that clones live abbreviated lives.

Snuppy’s birth came eight years after Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1997. Dolly died prematurely, at age six.

Snuppy

Snuppy

When Snuppy was born in 2005, Time magazine named him one of the most amazing inventions of the year. What wasn’t reported much, at least not initially, were the intrusive procedures involved, the birth defects that resulted, the surplus dogs that resulted, and the long list of animal welfare concerns about the process.

In the article written in Scientific Reports, by the researchers involved, those concerns also get short shrift.

“Animal cloning has gained popularity as a method to produce genetically identical animals or superior animals for research or industrial uses,” they write.

“There is lots of pet cloning going on right now. Owners are concerned whether their clones will live (a normal lifespan) or if they will experience accelerated aging and die early. So, there is some business concern,” said said co-author of the study CheMyong Jay Ko, of the University of Illinois.

The clones of Snuppy might also provide insights into the development of cancer and other diseases, Ko said.

(Top photo from the National Post; bottom of photo by John Woestendiek)

To read more about the birth of dog cloning and how it became a big business, read John Woestendiek’s book, “Dog, Inc.

World’s first in vitro puppies born at Cornell

ivf

Ten years after a dog was first successfully cloned, scientists have managed to produce the world’s first litter of pups to be born through in vitro fertilization.

In July seven puppies were born through IVF at Cornell University — five beagles and two “bockers,” or beagle-cocker spaniel mixes.

The achievement was not revealed until this week with the release of the research study.

Seems like science would have happened the other way around — that a “test-tube” puppy would have premiered long before we entered the even more science fiction-like era of cloned dogs becoming available on the marketplace.

But, while IVF has been used for decades in other animals, including humans, scientists had never succeeded in using it to produce a newborn pup.

Previous attempts to use IVF in dogs had resulted in very low rates of fertilization, and no live births at all once IVF embryos were transferred to a host.

“Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do [IVF] in a dog and have been unsuccessful,” said co-author Alex Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

What made it so difficult were some of the same factors that proved challenging in cloning dogs — females only ovulate once or twice a year, and their eggs are not transparent, making it harder to see the structures inside of the egg.

The Cornell researchers, in a joint project with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, found that by waiting an extra day for eggs to mature before extracting them, they met with more success.

Adding magnesium to the environment where the sperm and egg met also helped with fertilization, the team found, according to a Cornell press release.

The achievement was revealed this week in a study published online Dec. 9 in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The seven surviving puppies (out of 19 embryos) are genetically the offspring of two different fathers (a cocker spaniel and a beagle) and three different beagle mothers, carried by the same beagle surrogate.

Unlike cloning, which involves transferring an existing (or dead) dog’s DNA into a donor egg, IVF involves the creation of a new genome through fertilization. Each each animal has a unique set of DNA.

The researchers say the development will open the door for preserving endangered canid species using assisted reproduction techniques.

It could also enable researchers to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs and facilitate the study of genetic diseases in dogs and humans, they say.

(Photo: Cornell graduate student Jennifer Nagashima and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute research biologist Nucharin Songsasen — lead author and co-author of the study — walk some of the puppies born through IVF; by Jeffrey MacMillan / Cornell University)

NC shelter may offer dead dogs for sale

Bladen County Commissioners will consider a proposal tonight to start selling the carcasses of dogs euthanized in the North Carolina shelter to a biological supply company.

According to a proposed contract, the company wants to pay $4 each for dead dogs weighing between 25 and 45 pounds, assuming the carcasses are in “reasonably good condition.”

The company would pick up the dogs weekly, preserve the bodies with chemicals and then offer them for sale to “facilities and/or laboratories designed for scientific research and biological educational classrooms” — at prices of $100 or more each.

WECT identified the company as Southeastern Biological Supply.

The county has sold dead cats for $4 each to the company since 2009 — as have Brunswick, Columbus and Pender Counties in southeastern North Carolina. New Hanover County donates cat carcasses to veterinary schools.

Pender County made $1,604 selling dead cats last year, and Brunswick County raked in $4,788, WECT reported.

It all sounds like a pretty questionable and nasty business — this marketing of carcasses — and historically it has been. But those who defend the practice say it contributes to science, specifically the teaching thereof, and is no less dignified than the traditional means of disposal: taking dead dogs to the landfill.

The Humane Society of the United States, while it doesn’t oppose the transfer of euthanized animals to educational and research institutions, says shelters should not be making money from such exchanges.

“So-called ‘surplus’ dogs and cats are a result of the tragic pet overpopulation and millions of dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in U.S. shelters. When money can be made in dealing in their carcasses, it can give the perception that there may be less incentive for addressing overpopulation or that the shelter would rather gain from this tragedy than spend the money necessary to solve it,” the HSUS says.

The organization also believes the owners of any pet euthanized by a shelter should, when possible, be notified when a carcass is being transferred for scientific research, and it advises shelters to be transparent when it comes to what they do with the carcasses of animals they euthanize.

“Full public awareness of any animal transfer policy is vital to maintaining public trust in animal shelters,” it says.

When it comes to what becomes of the bodies of euthanized pets, I think we are pretty far from full public awareness. Even when the information is made available, it’s a topic most of us prefer not to delve too deeply into.

Still, it manages to rise to the surface once in a while.

Back in the 1980s, it grew into a full blown scandal when it was discovered that employees at Winnebago County Animal Control in Illinois were receiving payments and gift credits in exchange for providing carcasses to a Wisconsin biological supply company.

An investigation by Rockford-area authorities into missing funds in the animal control division of the county Health Department turned up evidence that, between 1982 and 1988, the division was receiving $2.25 per cat and $6 per dog from Nasco International Inc.

The animal-control unit built up a line of credit with Nasco and periodically spent that credit to purchase items from Nasco`s various equipment and gift catalogs, the Chicago Tribune reported in 1988.

A county public health administrator at the time said he thought selling the dog carcasses to a biological supply company was a better idea than the county’s previous arrangement — paying a rendering firm to dispose of dead dogs and cats, which then ended up in products such as lipstick, mouthwash, rubber and even pet food.

In Bladen County, N.C., where dog carcasses are now taken to the landfill, Health and Human Services Director Cris Harrelson insisted getting paid for dead dogs wouldn’t motivate the shelter to kill more.

“We euthanize them only as necessary,” he said. “As long we have room in the shelter, they stay alive.”

Harrelson said the county had the fourth lowest euthanasia rate in the state in 2012.

I checked on the Internet to learn more about Southeastern Biological Supply, but, if it exists, it doesn’t have any online presence.

I did find Carolina Biological Supply, whose website boasts “bigger pigs at same low prices …”

The company offers both dog and cat specimens to educational and research institutes — all preserved in its exclusive “Carolina’s Perfect Solution.”

“Including the dissection of preserved dogs in your AP Biology lesson plans will give students a hands on experience with anatomy that surpasses print or pictures,” the website states.

That’s one of the things that troubles me most about these grisly exchanges. Today, with computer graphics and 3d models and imaging, we have the technology needed to avoid having students chop up animal carcasses in biology class.

But biological supply companies — accustomed to their near obscene profits — aren’t likely to admit that. And leaders of research and educational institutions, for whatever reasons, aren’t either.

So the demand continues, and the companies, seeking ways to meet it, turn to animal shelters.

I’d like to think animal shelters — whether county run or private — would steer clear of it all, for appearances sake if nothing else.

But when it comes to which ones do, and which ones don’t, we don’t really know.

A drug to make your dog live longer?

antiaging

Two University of Washington scientists think it might be possible to slow the aging process in canines and are launching a pilot study with 30 dogs to see if the drug rapamycin significantly extends their lifespans.

The researchers, using $200,000 in seed money from the University of Washington, plan to use pets, not laboratory animals, for the initial study, and recruit volunteer dogs — or at least dogs whose owners volunteer them — for larger scale studies in the future.

Daniel Promislow, an evolutionary geneticist, and Matthew Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist, say the study is aimed at determining whether rapamycin could lead to longer lives for dogs — as studies have shown is the case when it’s used on yeast, fruit flies, worms and mice.

“We’re not talking about doubling the healthy life spans of pets,” said Kaeberlein. “But at a minimum I would predict that you would get a 10 to 15 percent increase in average life span, and I think bigger effects are possible.”

In the pilot study, 30 large, middle-aged dogs will be involved — half receiving low doses of rapamycin, half receiving placebos.

The researchers say that subsequent studies will seek to enroll pet dogs from across the country.

Kaeberlein and Promislow hosted a meeting in Seattle last week where experts from across the country discussed the drug rapamycin and its possible effects on the health and longevity of dogs, the Seattle Times reported.

Currently used along with other medications to prevent rejection in organ-transplant patients, rapamycin has been called a promising anti-aging drug — though there have been no studies involving humans.

But almost 50 laboratory studies have shown that the compound can delay the onset of some diseases and degenerative processes and restore vigor to elderly animals, extending life spans by 9 to 40 percent.

Rapamycin functions, in part, by inactivating a protein that promotes cell growth. As a result, cells grow more slowly, which retards the spread of cancer.

Promislow, who has two elderly dogs of his own, noted that even if the drug doesn’t increase the life span of dogs, it could serve to keep them healthy longer. “We’re trying to understand why some dogs age better than others, and help all dogs age in a better way,” he said.

The drug has been shown to have serious side effects, including poor wound healing and an increased risk of diabetes, when used at the high doses required for organ transplant patients.

But the low doses used in anti-aging research with mice and other lab animals cause few side effects.

There have been no large-scale human trials. Studying how the drug affects dogs — who suffer many of the same old-age ailments as their masters — makes it possible to explore the possible benefits of rapamycin both more quickly and at a lesser cost.

If it does turn out to be a sort of  fountain of youth — for dogs, humans, or both — the potential profits would be enormous.

“I think it’s worth a go, not just from what it can teach us about humans, but for the sake of the animals themselves,” said University of Alabama Biology Department Chairman Steven Austad, an expert in aging research who is not involved in the project. “It may not work in dogs, but if it did, boy, it’s going to be huge.”

According to the Seattle Times article, drug companies aren’t very interested in rapamycin because it’s no longer under patent.

But the researchers are hoping dog lovers, dog-food companies and some foundations might be willing to contribute to further research.

They’ve set up a website, dogagingproject.com,where people can donate and sign their dogs up to take part in the research.

“Given how I feel about my pets, I see this as a unique project where there’s a real potential for citizen science,” Kaeberlein said. “I think it would be great if pet owners who are really interested in improving the health of their animals would help fund this work.”

(Photos: UW scientists Matt Kaeberlein, with his dog Dobby, and Dan Promislow, with his dog Frisbee; by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

You know how frustrated you get when you have to tell your dog something over and over again?

Come here. Come HERE. Listen to me. Get over here right now. Don’t make me say it again. COME HERE!

In this video, the shoe is sort of on the other paw.

John Ventresco, of New Hampshire, is trying to persuade his 11-month-old husky, Blaze, to get into her crate.

Not only does Blaze physically (but peacefully) resist, refusing to budge, but she says what sounds like “no” — 30 times by my count, at least 10 of those quite clearly:

“Noooooo!”

Posted on YouTube just two weeks ago, the video is approaching 5 million views, meaning a lot of people are getting a chuckle, and learning how not to train a dog, and debating whether Ventresco — as gentle and good-humored as his urging is — is going to get bitten one of these days, and, if so, will he have deserved it.

Eventually one of them will have the other properly trained, I’m just not sure if it will be Ventresco or Blaze. Right now, it appears to be a draw.

The bigger question it raises, to me, anyway, is whether the day will come when dogs really do talk. I predict it will — that they will someday talk, on their own, without the aid of implants, headsets, devices that monitor their brain waves and apps that translate what they’re thinking into words.

Several projects are underway that do just that — because we humans want to know what’s going on in their heads, and we want to know now, and somebody somewhere thinks it might make some money.

We’ll take advantage of technology to bring that about and get it on the market as soon as possible, rather than wait a few hundred or thousand more years when, I’d venture, dogs will have evolved to the point that they’re talking on their own anyway.

It’s only natural for that to happen, with them living so closely to us, observing us around the clock,  and watching too much TV. They will continue to pick up our skills — learning to operate a remote control, warming up some chicken nuggets, uttering words, then entire phrases.

Mark my words. By the year 2525 (and that’s just a wild guess), dogs will be saying “yes” and “no,” and more:

Feed me.

I want to go outside for a while.

But wait, there’s more. Details at 11. Ohmigod, they killed Kenny. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.

Put me in that damn crate again and, I swear,  I’m going to call my attorney.

They may never have as sophisticated a vocabulary as us, may never be as erudite, snotty, self-promoting and adept at making barbed comments as us. But the day will come that they use words.

The question is not whether dogs will someday learn to talk. It’s whether, when they do, we’ll listen.

We already stink at that — in terms of listening to our fellow humans, and in terms of hearing what our dogs are silently saying. We’re so dependent on words we don’t hone our wordless communication skills, even though that mode is often more honest and meaningful.

My fear is that, through continued domicile-sharing with humans, dogs are going to learn to talk, but also — like Blaze, like Ventresco — not to listen.

It all brings to mind some lyrics from a song that has nothing to do with dogs — Don McLean’s “Vincent.” When you think about it, the misunderstood artist and modern day dog have much in common. We wonder what they’re trying to say, fail to see their brilliance, and don’t appreciate them fully until they’re gone.

Instead, often, we taunt, ridicule and shame them.

How much shorter might Van Gogh’s career have been, how many appendages might he have lopped off,  were he around in the Internet age, reading nasty comments from people about his paintings?

How much quicker might the civil rights movement have progressed if people had shut up and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., the first time?

Are we getting any better at listening, or quicker to turn a deaf ear?

As the song “Vincent” says:

They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

Let’s give it a listen.

Reflections on the dog paddle

dogpaddle

Throw a dog who has never gone swimming into a pool and, pretty much instantly, he’ll start moving his four legs in a series of motions we’ve come to call the dog paddle.

Throw a human who has never gone swimming into a pool and — though the possibilities are much higher for helpless flailing about, cussing, drowning, or becoming traumatized for life — he may eventually come to his senses enough to try and work his way back to the side of the pool. He’ll do so not using a butterfly stroke, breast stroke or Australian crawl, but by doing what dogs do.

The dog paddle: It’s seemingly instinctual. It’s primitive. And though we humans mostly outgrow it, it remains sort of the default mode of propelling ourselves through water.

Just how primitive it may be is under investigation by Dr. Frank Fish, a professor of biology at West Chester University who — maybe because of his name, maybe not — has spent most of his career studying how marine mammals swim.

Most recently, he has been studying the swimming motions of dogs, and he has concluded that they are very similar to the motions dogs use in trotting. That explains the  ease with which most dogs can make the transition from land to water — requiring no lessons, and (generally) little coaxing: They basically propel themselves the same way in water as they do on land.

That their stride and strokes are nearly identical is interesting in itself, but Fish thinks it could also help explain how whales and dolphins ended up in the ocean.

Fish subscribes to the theory that marine mammals were intitially four-legged land dwellers who ventured into the water one day (likely dog paddling at first), decided they liked it better there, then evolved into such super swimmers that they no longer needed legs, or, for that matter, land.

underwater dogsFor his research, Fish set up some underwater video cameras and enlisted eight volunteer dogs (including his own) of six different breeds, ranging from Yorkshire terrier to Newfoundland.

He borrowed a swimming pool used to rehabilitate horses at the University of Pennsylvania.

Analyzing the video, Fish and fellow researchers saw that dogs swim much like they run — with diagonal pairs of legs churning in unison, according to Science Daily. Fish presented his findings at the 2014 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting in Austin.

While there’s plenty of dog research we’d categorize as a silly waste of time, we find all this pretty intriguing.

First, it reminds us that practice makes perfect — to think that long, long ago there might have been a couple of four-legged dolphins who didn’t know how to swim, hesitating at the edge of the water: “I dunno, it looks dangerous … should we go in?”

Second, in an era when we’re increasingly relying on computers to do our thinking for us, it serves as a warning that those muscles we don’t use can disappear. It raises a host of interesting questions about our future, and our past.

Why is it we humans tend to dog paddle in our first encounters with water? Is that some sort of instinctual nod to a past when we got about on four legs, instead of two?

If cavemen had spent more time at the swimming hole, might we homo sapiens have evolved into something more amphibious?

Given that, might mermaids really exist?

It’s kind of inspiring to think there might have been a day when dolphins, the planet’s most graceful swimmers, were total klutzes in the water — that they started off splashing about with some awkward looking dog paddling and progressed to the point where they could actually leap out of the water.

It reminds us that, maybe, anything is possible with enough hard work — even when it comes to behaviors we might think are genetic and therefore unchangeable. Do we sometimes wear our genes too tightly, and allow them to restrict us from leaping into new things, and getting over old ones?

We wish Fish luck in unraveling how four-legged terrestrial forms evolved into no-legged, finned ones. And as long as the dogs involved in his research are having a good time —  given Fish is letting his own dog be used in the study, we assume they are — we have no problem with them helping the professor prove his point.

In other words: Go Fish!

(Top Photo, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology; bottom photo, from the book Underwater Dogs)