The Chinese scientist are taking genetic engineering to the next level with the introduction of the low-fat pigs. The scientists unveiled a report through a paper that was published on Monday during the National Academy of Sciences proceedings indicating that they have created 12 healthy pigs with about 24 percent less body fat than normal pigs.
The idea behind creating low-fat pigs is to provide farmers with pigs that are less expensive to raise and hence easier to maintain during the cold season.
"This is a big issue for the pig industry," says Jianguo Zhao of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who led the research. "It's pretty exciting."
The scientist used a gene that allows them to regulate their body temperatures by burning fat. The move will greatly reduce the feeding and heating costs, and also prevent piglets from dying in cold weather.
"They could maintain their body temperature much better, which means that they could survive better in the cold weather," Zhao said in an interview.
The move has been termed as very significant by other researchers.
"This is a paper that is technologically quite important," says R. Michael Roberts, a professor in the department of animal sciences at the University of Missouri, who edited the paper for the scientific journal. "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."
Robert remains skeptical as to whether the FDA will approve a genetically modified pig to be sold in the United States, also he doubts whether Americans would consume a genetically modified pig.
"I very much doubt that this particular pig will ever be imported into the USA — one thing — and secondly, whether it would ever be allowed to enter the food chain," he says.
This would not be the first time that FDA has approved a genetically modified animal since it has already approved a salmon, the approval, which took decades, was met with a lot of opposition from food-safety and environmental groups.
There are some people who suggest and hope that genetically modified livestock will eventually become more acceptable to regulators and the public.
"The population of our planet is predicted to reach about 10 billion by 2050, and we need to use modern genetic approaches to help us increase the food supply to feed that growing population," says Chris Davies, an associate professor in the school of veterinary medicine at Utah State University in Salt Lake City.
The pig breed that was used in the study is renowned for its quality, thus the Chinese scientists presumed that the genetic modifications will not alter the taste of the meat.
The pigs were created using a new gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, which enables scientists to make changes in DNA much more precisely than ever before. Unlike other animals, pigs lack a gene, called UPC1. It’s main role in animals is to regulate their body temperatures in cold temperatures. The Chinese managed to edit a mouse version of the gene into pig cells. Using those cells, they were able to create more than 2,553 cloned pig embryos.
They then implanted the genetically modified cloned pig embryos into 13 female pigs. Three of the female surrogate mother pigs became pregnant, producing 12 male piglets. The scientists tested the piglets and revealed that they were much better at regulating their body temperatures than normal pigs. According to researcher’s report, the pigs had about 24 percent less fat on their bodies.