December 03, 2021
In many sexually reproducing species there tends to be an equal distribution of biological sexes. Think of a swan, typically thought to be a monogamous species, it is beneficial to have an equal number of male and females. However, there are situations where this equal distribution is not beneficial. One example is the chicken egg industry. Only female chickens are needed to lay eggs, so having half a brood of male chicks is unproductive and wasteful, but what if it didn’t need to be?
Researchers in the UK believe they have identified a simple way to ensure offspring are exclusively male, or exclusively female. Their research at this stage has only been conducted in laboratory mice, but it has potential to make big changes to the livestock industry. This project is a collaboration between the Francis Crick Institute and the university of Kent, and involves gene editing. By inserting half of a gene editing molecule into the female mouse’s X chromosome (imagine a padlock), and the other half into the male’s Y chromosomes (imagine a key) they were able to produce all female embryos. When the two halves of the molecule came together (the padlock and the key) in male embryos, the embryo did not develop. Importantly the process could also be tweaked to produce only male mouse embryos.
As well as the potential benefits to the livestock industry, this new technique would be incredible beneficial for scientific research, as researchers often focus on only one sex of a species. If a researcher needing all female mice could ensure the entire litter of mice was female, it would mean that no animals would be destroyed. Importantly, because only one half of the molecule (either the lock or the key) is passed on to the animals that survive, it means this sex-selection cannot be passed on to future generations without intentional cross breeding between other mice with the same edit to their genes, so this cannot ‘escape’ the laboratory and cause problems in wild populations. There are also no recorded harmful side effects in the offspring that survive this gene selection.
Of course further research will be required before this gene-editing approach will be used in the livestock industry, but it is fascinating to imagine how one small tweak could have a large impact on animal welfare around the globe.
Source: Yahoo! News Canada
Read more: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/gene-edited-sex-selection-may-100112456.html