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A Genetically Modified Sheep was Sent to a Slaughter House and Sold for Meat

The lamb came from a agricultural research lab and was equipped with a jellyfish gene

A genetically modified lamb from a research lab in France was accidentally sent to market in November. It's unclear who might have eaten her. (Tim Pokorny/Flickr CC BY 2.0)
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French authorities are on the trail of a young genetically modified green sheep that appears to have gone on the lam in Paris.

Somehow a lamb from a lab experiment was sent to a slaughterhouse last fall, and some unknowing buyer purchased the meat, as Amar Toor reports for The Verge. The mysterious incident of the disappearing, genetically modified sheep stirred up quite the controversy in a country that has produced some staunch opposition to genetically modified food.

Here are the facts, as first recounted by Adrien Cadorel of Le Parisien: In Spring of 2014, the lamb, named “Ruby,” was part of a medical research project at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Paris. Her mother, Emerald, was bred with a gene from the crystal jellyfish (Aequorea Victoria) for green fluorescent protein. Ruby has the same gene. It allows here to glow green and makes her skin translucent. The researchers’ aim was to study and visualize the effects of human heart implants using sheep. In November 2014, Ruby mistakenly went to the slaughterhouse with sheep that had not been genetically modified. Someone in Paris bought the meat, and police are unsure how many people ate it.

Details surrounding Ruby’s departure from the lab are murky at best. Cadorel’s article points to foul play by two unidentified lab employees. The INRA has since released a statement, writes Toor:

INRA said it believes Ruby was transferred from the lab as part of a malicious act carried out by employees whose names have not been released. The agency also says it suspended the person responsible for selling the lamb, adding that its investigation revealed 'tensions and dysfunction' among leadership at the site where she was held.

If caught the employees will face a substantial fine and prison time, lab officials told Le Parisian.

Green fluorescent protein is common in lab experiments around the globe. It’s used to study everything from rare diseases to circadian rhythm. Benoît Malpaux, who leads the INRA lab where Ruby was housed, also told Cadorel: “Though she should never have been put on the market, Ruby does not present any health risks for consumption.”

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

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