Genetically Modified Micropigs Made To Fight Pests Might Make Fine Pets

Genetically modified micropigs? In MY local pet shop? It's more likely than you'd think thanks to a Chinese genomics institute whose GMO mini-porkers were originally designed to help researchers find cures for human diseases.

Located in Shenzhen, China, the BGI genomics institute has previously achieved a number of breakthroughs in the field of genomic sequencing. According to Yong Li, technical director of BGI's animal-science platform, the so-called “micropigs” were originally created to act as models for human disease.

Researchers began with Bama pigs, a breed which has previously been used in scientific research. Bama pigs typically weigh from 35 to 50 kilograms each while the average farm pig weighs over 100 kilograms (roughly 220 lbs.). Smaller pigs are desirable for economic reasons such as lower food and storage costs. In addition, lower doses of oft-pricey drugs are required during testing.

To create the smaller pigs, the BGI team first applied a proven gene-editing technique that uses enzymes known as TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) to disable the pigs' growth hormone receptor genes. The resulting smaller male pigs were then bred with normal-sized females. Eventually the team at BGI was able to reliably produce Bama pigs weighing in at just 15 kg; about the same as a medium-sized dog.

The new micropigs were unveiled at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit and by all accounts they were a huge hit. One of those in attendance was Lars Bolund, a medical geneticist from Aarhus University in Denmark who had worked with BGI to develop the gene-editing program used to “shrink” the pigs. “We had a bigger crowd than anyone,” stated Bolund. “People were attached to them. Everyone wanted to hold them.”

The reaction confirmed BGI's thoughts about the micropigs: designed for medical research, they would also make great pets!  BGI has set a provisional price of 10,000 yuan (about $1,600) for each micropig in order to evaluate the potential market. Once a true price point has been established, BGI plans to offer micropigs in a variety of different coat colors and patterns as these parameters can be set through gene editing. (via IBTimes and Nature)