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Science of the lambs: Boffins grow GLOW-IN-THE-DARK sheep

Baa baa hacked sheep, why the day-glo wool?

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Shepherds who watch their flocks by night could soon have a much easier job: South American scientists have successfully reared fluorescent sheep.

Boffins at the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay implanted a glow-in-the-dark gene from the Aequorea victoria jellyfish into nine of the woolly animals.

The bright-minded boffins claimed the healthy sheep grew up no different to their normal relatives - a key factor in the happiness of this notoriously conformist species. Their behaviour is similar to other sheep, apart from the fact their skin glows green when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Alejo Menchaca, head of the research team, said: "We did not use a protein of medical interest or to help with a particular medicine because we wanted to fine-tune the technique. We used the green protein because the color is easily identifiable in the sheep's tissues."

The day-glo sheep are apparently quite happy with their lot, particularly as they have been given the sort of lifestyle most animals could only dream of.

"They are out in the field as any other sheep, but in better conditions, not the traditional breeding system. They are well looked after, well fed and very much loved," Menchaca added.

The flock of lambs were born last October at a farm belonging to the Animal Reproduction Institute, which is linked to the Pasteur Institute - a French non-profit science group.

Some images of the sheep can be seen in the video below:

Sadly, anyone hoping to replace their boring white lambs with fluorescent ones will have to wait a long time.

“The technique is complex and demands much work, which is one of the limiting factors. So despite the global interest and demand it is still a slow process," Menchaca continued.

"Our focus is generating knowledge and making it public so the scientific community can be informed and help in the long run march to generate tools so humans can live better. We’re not out in the market to sell technology.”

The experiment hinges upon a technique that allows scientists to implant genes into the embryos of farmyard animals such as cows, lambs and goats. This could result in the manufacture of potentially lifesaving compounds, because the animals could be genetically programmed to produce useful substances in their milk.

All sorts of glowing beasts have been produced over the years, ranging from pocket-sized monkeys to AIDS-resistant day-glo cats. ®

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