Genetically modified pigs bred with 24% less fat

Genetically modified leaner pigs are on the cards soon.

Low-fat pigs sound like a contradiction, but they do exist now, thanks to CRISPR technology.

Chinese scientists have created 12 genetically modified piglets with around 24% less fat than normal, according to a new study.

To fix the mutation, the scientists-led by stem cell and reproductive biologist Jianguo Zhao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences-turned to a new gene editing tool, CRISPR/Cas9.

The lack of this fat-burning protein also means that they have a tendency towards fat accumulation, and thus influences the efficiency of pig production. That could save farmers millions of dollars in heating and feeding costs, as well as prevent millions of piglets from suffering and dying in cold weather. The gene isn't normally present in pigs, and the researchers wanted to see if it would help piglets - which don't have much body when they are young - maintain a warmer body temperature.

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The breakthrough is being hailed as a significant advance, but for many people, it's the prospect of lower-fat pork products that will be most appealing.

"This is a paper that is technologically quite important", R. Michael Roberts, who edited the study for the journal, told NPR.

"UCP1 KI pigs are a potentially valuable resource for agricultural production through their combination of cold adaptation, which improves pig welfare and reduces economic losses, with reduced fat deposition and increased lean meat production", the researchers wrote in their study.

"I very much doubt that this particular pig will ever be imported into the U.S. - one thing - and secondly, whether it would ever be allowed to enter the food chain", he says. The Food and Drug Administration has allowed genetically modified salmon, but that took decades.

On the other hand, experts like Chris Davies, an associate professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Utah State University, hope that the regulators would be more accepting when it comes to GMO livestock.

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Zhao says he doubts the genetic modification would affect the taste of meat from the pigs.

CRISPR is a gene editing technique which allows scientists to make changes to DNA with great precision, opening up a whole world of possibilities.

It's a gene used to regulate body temperature that's found in most mammals - but normal pigs don't have it. Thermogenin is used to generate heat without shivering, allowing animals to regulate their temperature in cold environments.

The researchers used the gene editing technique to add a mouse version of the gene to the pig genome by inserting it into embryo cells-the embryo was then implanted into the uterus of a normal mature sow.

Of all the frights you might experience between now and Halloween, this one might be the worst: Chinese scientists have genetically engineered pigs to be reduced-fat. Of these mother pigs, three became pregnant and they finally gave birth to the 12 healthy male pigs called the UCP1 KI pigs.

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