Do you need to draw the same cow? Or do you use it to symbolise another animal with which we share the same DNA?” asks Caley. These are questions that scientists are asking.
For example, is it possible to breed two different breeds of cow into one with the same DNA and have a healthy offspring? It is not, but that is the question that many scientists, including the team at the Broad Institute, are trying to find out. A cow’s genome has a set of genes called the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which provide a list of instructions to generate various proteins depending upon its genetic makeup.
In 2010, researchers at the Broad Institute found that these genes differ in almost every animal tested, ranging from pigs to humans. In humans, the same set of genes was significantly more effective than in other mammals, and more effective in women than in other groups. When the team looked at the genes in pigs—the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were significantly more active—it was seen as a potentially game-changing discovery, and led to a series of tests to find out if these genes were effective in humans as well. But the results were inconclusive.
In 2012, the team at the Broad Institute and the Harvard Medical School determined that those BRCA2 genes were less effective in pigs than in chickens and rats. So the question now is, if there are less effective genes in pigs, why are animals with different genetics different in how well they function in terms of how efficiently they can break down food?
Caley believes that one reason why the BRCA2 gene is only much more effective in pigs is because it is more closely linked to the meat, whereas in chickens and rats it is quite loosely linked. “In humans they are just not making enough of the same enzyme from the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to make the same protein,” says Caley.
Cameron Stewart at the University of Glasgow, UK, agrees. “It’s not clear how it [the BRCA2 genes] is different than it is in other animals,” he says. “I think there’s a bit of bias in this particular field to take the result that there are more BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins in humans, and ignore the other ones.” Caley, he says, is right to think that other animals could have developed differences from humans, and he believes that the BRCA2
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