Scientists used gene editing to create low-fat pigs

Scientists in China have created genetically modified pigs that have less fat and can regulate their body temperature during cold months.
By Ian Marsh | Oct 25, 2017
A group of Chinese scientists have used the gene editing technique CRISPR to breed low-fat pigs, a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

In the study, the team managed to create 12 healthy pigs that have 24 percent less body fat than normal ones.The animals have less overall body fat because researchers gave them a gene that allows them to regulate body temperature through burning fat. That could not only help millions of piglets survive cold weather, but it could also save millions of dollars in both heating and feeding costs.

They hope that advancement will enable farmers a way to breed hogs that are both less expensive to raise and easier to keep alive in cold weather.

"They could maintain their body temperature much better, which means that they could survive better in the cold weather," explainedstudy co-author Jianguo Zhao, a researcher atthe Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to NPR.

However, while many researchers believe the new technique is a great advancement in the world of farming, it is unlikely the Food and Drug Administration would approve a genetically modified pig for sale in the United States. Some altered salmon have been approved, but the process was met with a lot of opposition and took decades to get through.

Even so, scientists are hopeful that genetically modified livestock will eventually become more acceptable throughout the world. Not only could they help feed growing populations, but they present a way of farming that benefits both humans and animals.

To create the new breed, scientists used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. The technology enables researchers to easily alter DNA. In the study, the team used a mouse version of the gene UPC1 -- which helps animals regulate their body temperatures in cold environments -- to create more than 2,553 cloned pig embryos.

After that proved successful, researchers then implanted genetically modified embryos into 13 female pigs. Three of the female surrogate mother pigs became pregnant and produced 12 male piglets. Tests on the young pigs showed they could regulate their body temperature better than normal ones.

 

The team hopes the new method can be used on other animals, and provide a way to make farming easier across the world.

"This is a paper that is technologically quite important," said R. Michael Roberts, who edited the study for the journal, according to International Business Times. "It demonstrates a way that you can improve the welfare of animals at the same as also improving the product from those animals the meat."

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