A genetically modified sheep has become the world’s first to be cloned using worm DNA.
The male sheep – named “Peng Peng” – was created by Chinese scientists who took genes from a roundworm and inserted them into a donor cell from the ear of a Chinese Merino sheep.
The cell was then inserted into an unfertilised egg and implanted into the womb of a surrogate sheep
Peng Peng was born on 26 March in a laboratory in China's far western region of Xinjiang and weighed 5.74kg at birth.
The worm genes added to Peng Peng’s makeup are linked to the production of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are more commonly found in nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens.
In humans, these ‘good’ fats reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and support the normal development of the brain, eye and neurons, according to the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) – the world’s largest genome sequencing centre.
The transgenic sheep embryo was the outcome of what is known as ‘handmade cloning’ – a simplified technique introduced in 2011 which doesn’t require the need for sophisticated equipment used in traditional cloning methods.
The technique has already been used to create pigs, goats and buffalos.
Now one month old, experts say Peng Peng is “growing very well and is very healthy like a normal sheep”.
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BGI director Dr Yutao Du said: “The birth of Peng Peng means that people could absorb [unsaturated fats] by drinking milk or eating meat in the future.
“The most difficult task has been accomplished, the transgenic sheep production platform is established, we are ready for the industrial-scale development.”
China, which is home to 22% of the world's population but has only 7% of the world's arable land, has devoted plenty of resources to increasing its domestic food supply.
However, while there are still concerns about food safety, it could take years for meat produced from transgenic animals to appear on the Chinese market.