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Gene-Edited Goats Could Be Future Source of Cashmere

New Scientist reported that gene-edited goats were born last year at Yulin University’s Shanbei Cashmere Goat Farm in China. According to a report titled “Generation of gene-modified goats targeting MSTN and FGF5 via zygote injection of CRISPR/Cas9 system,” the genome-editing tool CRISPR (or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) allows researchers to customize future goat breeds for increased cashmere production.

“The results showed that simultaneous editing of several sites was achieved in large animals, demonstrating that the CRISPR/Cas9 system has the potential to become a robust and efficient gene engineering tool in farm animals and therefore will be critically important and applicable for breeding,” the report said.

Using the CRISPR gene-editing technique, the team inactivated the FGF5 gene, which is responsible for minimizing hair growth in the Shanbei cashmere breed of goats. Disabling the FGF5 gene allowed the goats’ coarse outer hair and finer inner hair to increase in length. The animals’ fine undercoat possesses soft properties and is used to manufacture cashmere wool products.

“The offspring of the edited goats are four months old and growing normally,” Yangling Northwest A& F University team member Xiaolong Wang said.

Although the development of gene-edited cashmere could be beneficial for cashmere production, some international regulators disagree about the authenticity of this material. Others feel that because the process is used to enhance natural mutations, these gene-edited breeds should not be applicable to genetically modified organisms.

If the second set of gene-edited goats continues to breed successfully, China’s cashmere sector could soon be utilizing fibers from gene-edited coats. The team has not disclosed if the gene-edited cashmere will be treated differently from normal cashmere.