July 12, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Noah’s GMO ark: is it ethical to create GM or cloned animals for sale as pets?

double muscled GM pigsCRISPR-ful Noah’s Ark?

Even as much of the discussion surrounding powerful new gene editing and cloning technologies has centered on their possible use in humans, the creation of genetically modified (GM) and cloned animals has advanced at warp speed.

Some of these efforts have been for research, which is justified. But many seem profit-centered and the GMOs are intended to be products for sale as pets.

Is this Noah’s ark of GM and cloned animals for pets a good idea?

The new generation of animals includes GM dogs and pigs with big muscles, pigs that may lack immunogens if used to make organs for transplants into people, GM super tiny micropigs, Hwang’s cloned pet dogs, and a host of other animals that I have called CRISPR-y critters.

There are also the GM GloFish, the first GM pets. Admittedly, in some cases the GMOs are definitely cute and interesting. The idea of a GMO pet is not entirely out of the question for me in the future, but the more I learn about it the more I have realized there is a complicated back story here.

As we ponder these and other GM animals in the works, what goes into the dialogue over bioethics here, particularly when we are talking specifically about the animals being pets?

There’s more to it than is apparent on the surface.

For instance, the creation of cloned dogs and almost certainly GM dogs takes the lives of other dogs in the form of surrogate mothers and egg donors. The same is likely true of other GM and cloned animals.

We don’t know the exact answer to this equation if we try to solve for X today, but it would probably be unsettling: 1 cloned or GM pet animal = X dead animals.

It wouldn’t surprise me if to make one GM or cloned pet dog the process leads to the death of 3-6 dogs overall. It could be much higher. The same is true for GM pigs intended to be pets.

Surrogacy and egg harvesting involve the potential for pain and suffering as well for the animals. Then of course there are the unknown number of failed attempts at making GM and cloned pet animals. Some of these failed “attempts” probably die postnatally. Is this justified in the context of creates pets to be sold?

Again, all of these considerations or concerns potentially can be balanced in the very different context of a research setting by gains in biomedical knowledge and human health. Even then bioethical considerations should be and usually are part of the process. In agriculture, super-muscled pigs or other GM animals such as potentially cows without horns (so that they do not have to go through the difficult process of being de-horned), may also have good rationales.

But what if the cloning and genetic modification of animals are instead mainly for fun/profit through selling the resulting animals as pets or novelties?

Also, does this all make the public more comfortable with the idea of potential future GM humans?

Overall, I believe there needs to be increased transparency in the area of GMOs as pets, increased knowledge of the more unsettling side to the production process, and more discussion of the key issues.

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