BGI Scraps Plans to Sell Gene Edited Pets
BGI has scrapped its controversial plans to sell gene-edited pets available in custom colours and sizes.
MIT Technology Review writes that the specific reason for the change of heart has yet to be revealed, but distracting press coverage, negative public sentiment in China around GMO’s, and uncertainty over how China plans to regulate gene-modified animals all seem to have contributed.
This week investors will be given the opportunity to buy shares in BGI, China’s largest genomics company, as it completes a $251 million initial public offering. However,sales may be lower than expected since the option to purchase a $1,400 gene edited pig is off the cards.
The ambitious plans were first revealed in September 2015 at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit, where they said announced they would sell half-sized Bama pigs and inaugurate a market for gene edited pets
Some scientists have hoped that the sales of gene edited animals, for food or other uses wouldn’t be regulated, due to the technology not involving the introduction of DNA from one species into another. However, regulators remain cautious. The U.S. FDA said in January that it would consider such animals GMOs, meaning potentially years of paperwork and delays for scientists working on creating hornless cattle and removing diseases from dogs. BGI’s Li says the government in China has adopted a similar view.
“The micropig project is still under review, and they are not for commercial sale, no more detailed information will be disclosed,” explained Siqi Gong, from BGI’s public relations department.
In order to make the mini pigs, BGI said, its scientists used technology called TALENs to disable a gene for a growth-hormone receptor in pig embryos. The resulting pigs weighed only around 30 pounds. Despite this, gene edited pigs do not appear anywhere in BGI’s 607-page stock offering document.
In a bid to change the views of genetically modifying anything, the Chinese government led a survey with Tsinghua University to discover the public attitudes toward GMO food like transgenic soybeans as a means to determine how far and how fast they can be pushed, especially as the government urges companies to become global innovators in biotechnology.
Although not being sold, BGI is continuing its research on the animals a a 200 acre facility known s the Ark, located in the highlands east of Shenzhen. Li added that the company is expanding the population of animals and testing breeding methods that could make for more robust specimens, including crossing them wild pigs.