Magazine article Science News

Recombinant Rodents, Human Hemoglobin

Magazine article Science News

Recombinant Rodents, Human Hemoglobin

Article excerpt

Recombinant rodents, human hemoglobin

Borrowing genes from human red blood cells, researchers have created a strain of genetically altered mice whose red cells contain large amounts of functioning human hemoglobin. The work represents the first successful manipulation of an animal's genetic code to produce human hemoglobin, the crimson protein responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body.

Scientists say the accomplishment will provide the first animal models to test experimental treatments for human hemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell anemia. It may also lead to the use of farm animals as "biofactories" capable of producing large quantities of human hemoglobin that could serve as a cell-free blood substitute compatible with recipients of any blood type. Blood types, such as A, B and O, are a characteristic of red blood cells, not of hemoglobin itself.

Mice, like humans, use hemoglobin to distribute oxygen from their lungs to body tissues. But mouse hemoglobin is very different from human hemoglobin, says Toshio Asakura of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who helped create the transgenic rodents. In mice, where the distance from lungs to oxygen-dependent tissues is relatively small, hemoglobin releases its oxygen readily. In larger animals, hemoglobin binds oxygen more tenaciously.

Scientists remain uncertain about what differences account for these varying oxygen-binding properties in different species. Moreover, while researchers have identified several inherited, disease-causing defects in human hemoglobin chains, they remain stymied in their efforts to find laboratory animals that mimic those errors. The new mice, created under the direction of University of Pennsylvania physiologist Richard R. Behringer and described in the Sept. 1 SCIENCE, have already begun to solve these and other problems. …

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