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Andy Greenfield

The birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996 elicited a tsunami of commentaries, both in the popular media and academic journals, including responses to the prospect of human reproductive cloning. Much of the anxiety expressed over this imagined consequence of Dolly’s genesis revealed fundamental concerns about us losing our commitments to certain ethical goods, such as human dignity, or even ‘what it means to be human’. Over the last 25 years, the focus of much of the ethical debate over human biotechnology has slowly shifted towards other genetic technologies that aim to influence inheritance, such as mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT) and heritable genome editing. Genome editing, in particular, is a technology with multiple fields of application, actual and potential, in research and innovation. This review suggests that many of the fundamental concerns about the possibility of human reproductive cloning that were precipitated by Dolly persist today in the arguments of those who oppose MRT and any use of heritable human genome editing (HHGE). Whilst it is not accepted here that an understanding of human nature and dignity alone can demonstrate the ethical unacceptability of such assisted reproductive technologies, there are themes of justice, which extend into our relationships with animals, that demand continued wide-ranging examination and public dialogue. While Dolly has cast a long shadow over such discussions, this review suggests that the general existential angst over human uses of biotechnology that she came to symbolise is neither compulsory nor a reliable guide for how to think about biotechnologies today.

Free access

Cesare Galli and Giovanna Lazzari

SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) has complemented the toolbox of ARTs offering yet another technique to reproduce animals in an unprecedented way. Despite remarkable achievements, SCNT suffers low efficiency, high pregnancy losses and higher than normal stillbirth rates that makes it an expensive technique to reproduce animals. Moreover, due to welfare issues associated with gestation and the newborn offspring, it is banned in some countries. It has become evident that these problems are of epigenetic nature associated with incomplete genome reprogramming, observed more frequently in ruminants and less often and of minor degree in pigs and horses. Genome editing is enormously benefiting from SCNT to turn genome edited cells into animals, even if zygote microinjection of CRISPR/Cas9 will become an alternative route in some occasions. SCNT will also be a route to reprogram somatic cell to pluripotency since bona fide iPSC in livestock are missing while embryonic stem cells have been now established. This opens the way to other technologies like the development of artificial gametes or interspecies nuclear transfer. To strengthen its commercial applications, SCNT will face three major challenges, that is, intellectual property (extremely unclear in genome editing), regulatory approval by the relevant authorities of the resuting potential products and finally, acceptance by the public who will eventually decide with its behavior the life or the death of the technology.

Free access

Atsuo Ogura, Shogo Matoba, and Kimiko Inoue

Twenty-five years have passed since the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammalian clone produced by adult somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). During that time, the main thrust of SCNT-related research has been the elucidation of SCNT-associated epigenetic abnormalities and their correction, with the aim of improving the efficiency of cloned animal production. Through these studies, it has become clear that some epigenomic information can be reprogrammed by the oocyte, while some cannot. Now we know that the imprinting memories in the donor genome, whether canonical (DNA-methylation-dependent) or noncanonical (H3K27me3-dependent), are not reprogrammed by SCNT. Thus, SCNT-derived embryos have the normal canonical imprinting and the erased noncanonical imprinting, both being inherited from the donor cells. The latter can cause abnormal phenotypes in SCNT-derived placentas arising from biallelic expressions of noncanonically imprinted genes. By contrast, repressive epigenomic information, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, might be more variably reprogrammed, leaving room for technical improvements. Low-input analytical technologies now enable us to analyze the genome of gametes and embryos in a high-throughput, genome-wide manner. These technologies are being applied rapidly to the SCNT field, providing evidence for incomplete reprogramming of the donor genome in cloned embryos or offspring. Insights from the study of epigenetic phenomena in SCNT are highly relevant for our understanding of the mechanisms of genomic reprogramming that can induce totipotency in the mammalian genome.

Free access

Irina A Polejaeva

Genetic engineering (GE) of livestock initially has been accomplished primarily using pronuclear microinjection into zygotes (1985–1996). The applications of the technology were limited due to low integration efficiency, aberrant transgene expression resulting from random integration and the presence of genetic mosaicism in transgenic founder animals. Despite enormous efforts to established embryonic stem cells (ESCs) for domestic species, the ESC GE technology does not exist for livestock. Development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has bypassed the need in livestock ESCs and revolutionized the field of livestock transgenesis by offering the first cell-based platform for precise genetic manipulation in farm animals. For nearly two decades since the birth of Dolly (1996–2013), SCNT was the only method used for the generation of knockout and knockin livestock. Arrival of CRISPRS/Cas9 system, a new generation of gene-editing technology, gave us an ability to introduce precise genome modifications easily and efficiently. This technological advancement accelerated production of GE livestock by SCNT and reinstated zygote micromanipulation as an important GE approach. The primary advantage of the SCNT technology is the ability to confirm in vitro that the desired genetic modification is present in the somatic cells prior to animal production. The edited cells could also be tested for potential off-target mutations. Additionally, this method eliminates the risk of genetic mosaicism frequently observed following zygote micromanipulation. Despite its low efficiency, SCNT is a well-established procedure in numerous laboratories around the world and will continue to play an important role in the GE livestock field.

Open access

Ramiro Alberio and Eckhard Wolf

The birth and adult development of 'Dolly' the sheep, the first mammal produced by the transfer of a terminally differentiated cell nucleus into an egg, provided unequivocal evidence of nuclear equivalence among somatic cells. This ground-breaking experiment challenged a long-standing dogma of irreversible cellular differentiation that prevailed for over a century and enabled the development of methodologies for reversal of differentiation of somatic cells, also known as nuclear reprogramming. Thanks to this new paradigm, novel alternatives for regenerative medicine in humans, improved animal breeding in domestic animals and approaches to species conservation through reproductive methodologies have emerged. Combined with the incorporation of new tools for genetic modification, these novel techniques promise to (i) transform and accelerate our understanding of genetic diseases and the development of targeted therapies through creation of tailored animal models, (ii) provide safe animal cells, tissues and organs for xenotransplantation, (iii) contribute to the preservation of endangered species, and (iv) improve global food security whilst reducing the environmental impact of animal production. This review discusses recent advances that build on the conceptual legacy of nuclear transfer and – when combined with gene editing – will have transformative potential for medicine, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. We conclude that the potential of these technologies depends on further fundamental and translational research directed at improving the efficiency and safety of these methods.

Free access

Pasqualino Loi, Luca Palazzese, Pier Augusto Scapolo, Josef Fulka Jr, Helena Fulka, and Marta Czernik

The birth of Dolly through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) was a major scientific breakthrough of the last century. Yet, while significant progress has been achieved across the technics required to reconstruct and in vitro culture nuclear transfer embryos, SCNT outcomes in terms of offspring production rates are still limited. Here, we provide a snapshot of the practical application of SCNT in farm animals and pets. Moreover, we suggest a path to improve SCNT through alternative strategies inspired by the physiological reprogramming in male and female gametes in preparation for the totipotency required after fertilization. Almost all papers on SCNT focused on nuclear reprogramming in the somatic cells after nuclear transfer. We believe that this is misleading, and even if it works sometimes, it does so in an uncontrolled way. Physiologically, the oocyte cytoplasm deploys nuclear reprogramming machinery specifically designed to address the male chromosome, the maternal alleles are prepared for totipotency earlier, during oocyte nuclear maturation. Significant advances have been made in remodeling somatic nuclei in vitro through the expression of protamines, thanks to a plethora of data available on spermatozoa epigenetic modifications. Missing are the data on large-scale nuclear reprogramming of the oocyte chromosomes. The main message our article conveys is that the next generation nuclear reprogramming strategies should be guided by insights from in-depth studies on epigenetic modifications in the gametes in preparation for fertilization.

Free access

Bernhard Klinger and Angelika Schnieke

For more than a century, the scientific consensus stated that a nucleus from a terminally differentiated cell would not be able to control the development of offspring. This theory was refuted by the birth of Dolly, the first animal generated by nuclear transfer using an adult somatic cell as a nuclear donor. Following this paradigm shift, a wide variety of animals has been cloned using somatic cell nuclear transfer. Coupled with modern genome engineering technology, somatic cell nuclear transfer has become the method of choice for the generation of genetically modified farm animals. This has opened new opportunities to study the function of genes and has led to the establishment of animal models for a variety of human conditions and diseases or to improve the health of livestock animals.

Restricted access

Veronika Tandl, Denise Hoch, Julia Bandres-Meriz, Sanela Nikodijevic, Gernot Desoye, and Alejandro Majali-Martinez

Endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-stress activates the unfolded protein response (UPR), which plays a (patho)physiological role in the placenta. Oxygen and hyperinsulinemia are major regulators of placental development. Thus, we hypothesized that oxygen, insulin and their interplay modulate ER-stress in early pregnancy. Using the human first-trimester trophoblast cell line ACH-3P, we quantified mRNA and protein of several members of UPR by RT-qPCR and Western blotting, respectively. ER-stress induction using tunicamycin and brefeldin A resulted in increased CHOP (4.6-fold change; P ≤ 0.001), XBP1 expression (1.7- and 1.3-fold change, respectively; P ≤ 0.001 and P < 0.05) and XBP1 splicing (7.9- and 12.8-fold change, respectively; P ≤ 0.001). We subsequently analyzed the effect of oxygen (6.5%, 2.5%), insulin (0.1–10 nM) and their interaction using ANCOVA adjusted for cell passage as co-variate. Although GRP78 protein remained unaffected, low oxygen (2.5% O2) increased IRE1α phosphorylation (+52%; P < 0.05) and XBP1 splicing (1.8-fold change; P ≤ 0.001) after 24 h, while eIF2α protein and CHOP expression were downregulated (−28%; P < 0.05 and −24%; P ≤ 0.001; respectively). eIF2α phosphorylation was also reduced after 48 h by low oxygen (−61%; P < 0.05) but increased in the presence of insulin (+46%; P ≤ 0.01). These changes were not PERK-mediated, since PERK phosphorylation and total protein were not altered. Overall, our results suggest that IRE1α and eIF2α UPR-pathways are differentially regulated by oxygen and insulin in early pregnancy.

Restricted access

Cheng Peng, Zhuo Lv, Tang Hai, Xiangpeng Dai, and Qi Zhou

Trichostatin A (TSA), a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, can significantly improve the reprogramming efficiency of somatic cells. However, whether TSA has a detrimental effect on other kinds of embryos is largely unknown because of the lack of integrated analysis of the TSA effect on natural fertilized embryos. To investigate the effect of TSA on mouse embryo development, we analyzed preimplantation and post-implantation development of in vivo, in vitro fertilized, and parthenogenetic embryos treated with TSA at different concentrations and durations. In vivo fertilized embryos appeared to be the most sensitive to TSA treatment among the three groups, and the blastocyst formation rate decreased sharply as TSA concentration and treatment time increased. TSA treatment also reduced the livebirth rate for in vivo fertilized embryos from 56.59 to 38.33% but did not significantly affect postnatal biological functions such as the pups’ reproductive performance and their ability for spatial learning and memory. Further analysis indicated that the acetylation level of H3K9 and H4K5 was enhanced by TSA treatment at low concentrations, while DNA methylation appeared to be also disturbed by TSA treatment only at high concentration. Thus, our data indicates that TSA has different effects on preimplantation embryonic development depending on the nature of the embryo’s reproductive origin, the TSA concentration and treatment time, whereas the effect of TSA at the indicated concentration on postnatal function was minor.

Restricted access

Qiao-Qiao Kong, Guo-Liang Wang, Jin-Song An, Jia Wang, Hao Cheng, Tao Liu, and Jing-He Tan

Postovulatory oocyte aging is one of the major causes for human early pregnancy loss and for a decline in the population of some mammalian species. Thus, the mechanisms for oocyte aging are worth exploring. While it is known that ovulated oocytes age within the oviduct and that female stresses impair embryo development by inducing apoptosis of oviductal cells, it is unknown whether the oviduct and/or female stress would affect postovulatory oocyte aging. By comparing aging characteristics, including activation susceptibility, maturation-promoting factor activity, developmental potential, cytoplasmic fragmentation, spindle/chromosome morphology, gene expression, and cumulus cell apoptosis, this study showed that oocytes aged faster in vivo in restraint-stressed mice than in unstressed mice than in vitro. Our further analysis demonstrated that oviductal cells underwent apoptosis with decreased production of growth factors with increasing time after ovulation, and female restraint facilitated apoptosis of oviductal cells. Furthermore, mating prevented apoptosis of oviductal cells and alleviated oocyte aging after ovulation. In conclusion, the results demonstrated that mouse oviducts underwent apoptosis and facilitated oocyte aging after ovulation; female restraint facilitated oocyte aging while enhancing apoptosis of oviductal cells; and copulation ameliorated oviductal apoptosis and oocyte aging.