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Do Gene Editing and Dogs Mix? Experts Weigh in on Genetic Editing for Breeding, Health

Mar 28, 2017 09:37 AM EDT

Is it about time we genetically engineer dogs? This is what David Ishee thinks as he started to make his way towards gene editing for stronger, healthier dogs. However, with regulations blocking his way, it will not be an easy quest.

Ishee told his story in Singularity Hub, where he explained that as a breeder from rural Mississippi, his mission was to try to "restore" dogs to their former glory.

His journey to make an ideal mastiff -- a "super" mastiff by today's standards -- took him eight years of breeding. This is a mastiff that's 150 to 170 pounds, dry-mouthed, tight-skinned, large-shouldered and free of health problems.

Centuries of inbreeding have left dog breeds with a lot of diseases due to lack of genetic diversity and a limited gene pool. Ishee was inspired by a TED talk about gene editing and proceeded to do it himself.

He was surprised that due to the freedom to "learn" genetic engineering, he actually made his own miniature genetic lab in his backyard with a kit and online-based DNA.

He was surprised to realize that DNA sequencing and synthesis are starting to become cheaper. His construction last 2016 costs l  23 cents per base pair, which was $1.30 last 2010.

However, his ideal dogs would have to wait as the FDA is becoming stricter with its guidelines on animals that are produced via genetic editing. They decided to classify the edited portion of the genome in the animal as a "veterinary" drug, which subjects the animal to the same regulations as new drugs for animals. The FDA statement acknowledged the benefits of the technology but its potential risks as well.

Unfortunately, Ishee's next project is now in conflict with FDA regulations. His new mission, to get rid of hyperuricemia in dalmatians, was put on hold.

Hyperuricemia is caused by a mutation in the SLC2A9 gene of dogs that leads to excess uric acid in the blood. This forms painful bladder stones and even cause the bladder to burst.

With usual methods, breeding would waiting for a positive mutation to randomly appear, and it could take years. New gene-editing methods like CRISPR could do it in just a few months.

Ishee believes corporations will not have a lot of problems in trying to create the "ideal" dogs. After all, if there was a way to rid dogs of diseases, why not? 

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