New Wave of Frankenfoods
Coming - Including
Giant Lobsters
From The London Times
Giant lobster could be food of the future
They could call it Claws. Geneticists in the U.S. are creating the world's biggest lobster after discovering how to block the genes that limit animals' natural growth.
In secret laboratory experiments, they have also applied the technique to make giant chickens, sheep and pigs and are attempting to do the same with cattle.
The results could revolutionize livestock and fish farming, creating a new generation of animals whose genes have been altered in ways that could mean up to double the meat yield. Lobsters are among the species chosen to pioneer the technology because of their high commercial value.
The experiments also have implications for animal-rights campaigners who this weekend warned that such technology risked producing mutants that would live their lives in pain and suffering.
The giant creatures are being developed by MetaMorphix, a company set up by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United States. It was there that Se-Jin Lee, professor of genetics, discovered the gene that controls myostatin, a substance which regulates muscle growth. He created a family of mice without the gene expecting them to have less muscle than normal only to find that he had produced a breed of super-mice. ``The mice are visually very dramatic, especially when you dissect them and see the much bigger muscles,'' he said. Since then, Lee and MetaMorphix have been working with livestock, such as chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle, to see if the effect could be repeated.
The data suggest the technique can accelerate rates of growth in all those species by about 12 per cent and create adult animals up to 50 per cent bigger than usual with a much higher proportion of muscle. The MetaMorphix team has since devised ways to neutralize myostatin, ranging from simple vaccines to genetic manipulation, to create mutant animals that lack the controlling gene. The researchers also found that the gene was common to a huge range of species meaning that the same approach could be used in fish and even in shellfish.
That discovery has been used by Cape Aquaculture Technologies (Cat) of Massachusetts, to create giant fish; trials are under way on lobsters and shellfish. Robert Curtis, chief executive of Cat, said he could not identify the fish species or reveal how large his lobsters would grow but added: ``Shrimps, mussels and scallops are also a possibility.'' Such research is usually conducted in secret. Fifteen years ago, scientists at America's Department of Agriculture's research centre announced that they had created the world's first transgenic livestock.
However, the public was not impressed when presented with mutant pigs crippled by gastric ulcers, arthritis and other illnesses. Changes in the genes affecting the way the animals grew had disastrous side effects. The shocked reaction meant that almost all such research has since been conducted away from the public eye. Among other disasters have been giant salmon that grew far faster than normal, but then developed humpbacks and green flesh.
Now, however, scientists believe the results are more acceptable. A Canadian firm, Af Protein, has created a commercially viable transgenic super- salmon by inserting a gene from Arctic char, which makes the fish grow faster and larger.
Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have created a flock of 120 transgenic ``ball-of-wool'' sheep which grow faster, need less food and produce far more wool than normal. Dr. Kevin Ward, one of CSIRO's senior scientists, said: ``They are strong, they grow faster and bigger but they eat the same amount of grass todo it.''
In New Zealand, AgResearch, a government research agency, has created the world's first herd of cloned cows from a ``parent'' renowned for the vast amounts of milk she produced. Scientists there are also seeking government permission to take a naturally occurring mutant gene isolated from double-muscled Belgian blue cattle, which makes them grow exceptionally large, and insert it into sheep.
Such experiments anger animal campaigners. Joyce D'Silva, director of Compassion in World Farming, said: ``These innovations are a gross mutilation of animal physiology. Scientists need to think not just about what is possible but also about what is ethical.''


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