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Glittering sea horses are VN's first engineered animals

Update: January, 03/2008 - 00:00

Glittering sea horses are VN’s first engineered animals

(04-01-2008)

HA NOI — Under the blue light of a fluorescent lamp, 108 striped sea horses glitter like gold. These sea horses are worth their weight in gold - literally: they are the first genetically engineered animals to be created in Viet Nam.

Today they are less than two weeks old and are no bigger than matchsticks.

These sea horses were born using the "gene-shooting method" pioneered in this country by Phan Kim Ngoc and his colleagues at Viet Nam National University’s College of Science, in HCM City.

"Gene GFP, a light-emitting gene extracted from jellyfish, was combined with tiny grains of gold. Then these grains of gold were injected into sea horse egg cells. The gold mixed with the jellyfish genes was incorporated into the cells of the sea horses, which glittered when they came into being," said Ngoc, the head of animal physiology.

Ngoc and his colleagues have spent three years developing the technique and have more than 20 failures under their belt.

They tried using techniques such as micro-injection without success. "Egg cells live in a watery environment so their membranes are harder and tougher. Based on experiments that have been performed around the world, we decided to use ‘gene shooting’, which generated a force strong enough to bring the light-emitting gene into the egg cells," said Ngoc, the leader of the first studies in gene therapy in 2002.

The scientists experimented with a number of animals, but it was with sea horses that they earned their stripes.

"After sowing light-emitting genes into sea horse eggs we have made the next generation literally glitter," said Ngoc.

Gene success

"The genetically modified animals mark our first success with gene technology on animals in Viet Nam," said associate professor Pham Thanh Ho, a leading bio-technology scientist.

"This success will be very useful to medicine. The technique can be used to treat and replace people’s negative genes with good genes. And in animals it can be used to produce cows that produce more milk, pigs that are leaner and hens that are more prolific layers. It can also be used to preserve the rare genes [of endangered species] or for cleaning the environment," said Ho.

"Gene-transferring technology can also be used to treat incurable diseases," added Ngoc, who said he would now apply the technique to treating diabetes.

"We are making experiments on mice with a view to changing the mouse’s original cells into pancreas cells which produce insulin for diabetic people," said Ngoc. "We will also look into ways to apply the technique to breeding animals," Ngoc said. — VNS

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