Researchers in Argentina have produced what is believed to be the world’s first genetically edited horse embryo.
The team worked with cloned embryos using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, which enables scientists to edit portions of the DNA sequence precisely, to try to knock out the myostatin gene (MSTN), which negatively regulates muscle mass development.
The gene has previously been studied and edited in other mammals, particularly with a view to increase meat production in cattle, sheep, goats and pigs and to enhance sports performance in dogs.
Previous work on a natural mutation in the gene in horses had suggested that MSTN expression levels could affect performance ability, giving faster horses for shorter distances when there was lower MSTN expression.
While cloning of horses has already become widespread, there have not been examples of genetic modification in horses to date, and the researchers suggest the two techniques could be successfully combined to create what would essentially be bespoke foals.
The study’s authors added that in the future, the main applications for genetic modification in horses would be likely to focus on “disease resistance, genetic disease reversion and sportive performance improvement”.
The successful research concluded that CRISPR/Cas9 had proved an “efficient method to edit the horse genome” with “high specificity”