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Scientists at the Beijing University of Agriculture
have genetically modified a pair of calves in an attempt to make their meat more tender, tastier, and more appealing to discerning palates.
Professor Ni Minhong and colleagues at the school's department of advanced science and technology produced a pair of cloned cows
, named Jing Qin 1 and Jing Qin 2, that had been implanted with an extra gene, Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray
reported on Sunday.
That gene is designed to increase the amount of fat contained in their muscles, and the scientists hope that it will lead to the development of a high-quality cut of beef that can rival gourmet wagyu or Kobe beef, Gray said. To date, Ni's team has spent three years on their research, though they will have to wait until the calves mature and are slaughtered before they can truly discover whether or not they have succeeded or failed.
"Through this project we will be the first in the world to successfully create transgenic cows with fatty acid binding protein," the professor told The Telegraph.
"Unlike pork where leaner is better, a good amount of muscle fat content is one of the key elements when it comes to characterizing beef quality... After more research it may be possible to achieve ideal marbling of meat in domestic cattle and provide an alternative to imported high-grade meat."
The cows at the center of the study are a Chinese-exclusive breed known as Qinchuan, and they were born at the Comprehensive Experimental Base of Beijing University of Agriculture in Daxing district, according to Yin Yeping of the Global Times.
Two hundred female cows had been implanted with genetically modified embryos, and seven became pregnant, but only two were born alive - the first on July 19 and the second on August 1 - Yeping added.
Both Jing Qin 1 and Jin Qin 2, as well as the failed embryos, had been injected with a gene which spurs on the creation of a fatty acid binding protein known as adiposcyte, Gray said. Adiposcyte leads to the development of "thin streaks of fat" between the cows' muscles, and after the animals are slaughtered, the additional fat becomes marbling which adds tenderness and flavor to the beef.
"Allowing genetically modified cattle would cut the cost of richly marbled beef," Gray said.
However, he also noted that the research would "add to the debate over the ethics and safety of attempts to genetically modified livestock, with critics of the technology raising fears about the welfare of the animals involved and the possibility of the meat and milk they produce causing harm to humans."
The research addressing the safety of genetically modified (GM) food is "immature" and it is "too early to introduce it to the commercial food chain," Greenpeace
food and agricultural campaigner Fang Lifeng told Yeping.
"Given the GM crops
that are more scientifically mature than the meat, but which are still controversial in terms of their possible affects on the human body, it will take at least a decade to prove GM beef is safe before it can be sold commercially," he added.
It has also drawn some criticism from animal rights groups as well, according to the Telegraph
"The scientists say it could be several years before the new meat could be available in shops if it is approved by the authorities," Gray said, adding that Ni and his colleague will need "to carry out further research to ensure the gene is stable in successive generations of cattle and they also want to try the gene in other varieties of beef cattle to see if how the meat differs."