Is This Animal The Pork Of The Future?
Researchers in China hope the answer is yes. They created the pictured animal by gene-editing, a process which disrupted a gene designed to limit muscle growth in the pig.
This is a short-cut of the genetic selection route used to create the cow pictured here:
Image credit Pinterest
However, the process is far from perfect. Out of a cloned litter of 32 piglets less than half made it to 8 months of age and so far only 2 are still alive.
The team of scientists hopes to sell the sperm from the live organisms to farmers in the hopes that when mixed with natural gene pools, the piglets would have a higher survival rate.
What do you think of this? Read more below from Nature.com:
by Xi-jun Yin
These meaty pigs could become the first genetically engineered animals to be approved for human consumption.
These ‘double-muscled’ pigs are made by disrupting, or editing, a single gene — a change that is much less dramatic than those made in conventional genetic modification, in which genes from one species are transplanted into another. As a result, their creators hope that regulators will take a lenient stance towards the pigs — and that the breed could be among the first genetically engineered animals to be approved for human consumption………..
No genetically engineered animal has been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world, owing to fears of negative environmental and health effects.
Key to creating the double-muscled pigs is a mutation in the myostatin gene (MSTN). MSTN inhibits the growth of muscle cells, keeping muscle size in check. But in some cattle, dogs and humans, MSTN is disrupted and the muscle cells proliferate, creating an abnormal bulk of muscle fibres.
The team edited pig fetal cells. After selecting one edited cell in which TALEN had knocked out both copies of the MSTN gene, Kim’s collaborator Xi-jun Yin, an animal-cloning researcher at Yanbian University in Yanji, China, transferred it to an egg cell, and created 32 cloned piglets.
Birthing difficulties result from the piglets’ large size, for instance. And only 13 of the 32 lived to 8 months old. Of these, two are still alive, says Yin, and only one is considered healthy.Rather than trying to create meat from such pigs, Kim and Yin plan to use them to supply sperm that would be sold to farmers for breeding with normal pigs.
But Tetsuya Ishii, who studies international biotechnology regulation at the Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and who has done an international comparison on GM regulations, says that gene editing will raise increasing alarm as it progresses in animals.
Kim hopes to market the edited pig sperm to farmers in China, where demand for pork is on the rise. The regulatory climate there may favour his plan. China is investing heavily in gene editing and historically has a lax regulatory system, says Ishii. Regulators will be cautious, he says, but some might exempt genetic engineering that does not involve gene transfer from strict regulations. “I think China will go first,” says Kim.
Article excerpt and featured image credit Nature.com