Scientists in China have recently created low-fat piglets using a gene taken from a mouse.
Using the latest techniques in gene-editing technology, the scientists were able to create piglets that can regulate their own body temperatures, allowing them to burn more fat.
According to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, the experiment was carried out in hopes of helping farmers significantly reduce the costs usually spent on heating, and additional feed required to keep pigs warm during cold weather, NPR reported.
By rearranging the pigs’ genes to include a mouse gene using CRISPR-Cas9, the researchers from Beijing successfully created low-fat piglets that can withstand the colder weather. While common in mammals, the gene called UPC1, which helps regulate body temperature, is normally absent in pigs.
Using CRISPR, the scientists were able to extract a version of UPC1 from mice and attach it into pig embryos. While the embryos were implanted into 13 female pigs, only three were impregnated, which then eventually gave birth to 12 lean piglets.
The scientists noted that the new pigs would have leaner meat, but they have yet to determine how the taste would vary from regular pork.
Lead researcher Jianguo Zhao of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing highlighted their work’s impact on pork production.
“This is a big issue for the pig industry,” Zhao was quoted as saying. “It’s pretty exciting.”
University of Missouri department of animal sciences professor R. Michael Roberts also highlighted the study’s significance.
“This is a paper that is technologically quite important,” the professor, who edited the paper for the scientific journal, was quoted as saying. “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.”
But while creating pigs that can regulate their body temperatures may potentially save millions of dollars in pork production, it remains to be seen how consumers will respond to pork produced from such genetically modified pigs.
Consumers from all over the world have so far been skeptical with current producers of genetically modified food in general. At present, even limited production and sales of genetically modified produce have been met with controversy. However, despite public concerns, there are currently many kinds of GM animals that are in development in different parts of the world.