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Chinese scientists use biotechnology to develop tiny pig pets

When pot-bellied pigs grow larger than expected, they often cease to be good pets. A Chinese firm is using biotechnology to create pigs that weigh in no heavier than 33 pounds. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Chinese biotechnology firm BGI believes the diminutive pigs they developed with genetic engineering will make great pets and plans to sell them for $1,600 each, reported Julie Makinen in the Los Angeles Times. The pigs' genetic material was edited in way that disabled a copy of the growth hormone receptor gene so that cells don't get a signal to grow.

In the story, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert expressed disappointment in the company's plan to market mini pigs as pets. Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, said the company's decision reflects the "global regulatory gridlock" around genetically engineered food animals.

"Genome editing is a powerful technology that can be used for many beneficial applications … such as producing disease-resistant animals and other things that would have real benefits for the sustainability of food production," she said. 

Americans seem to be open to genetically engineered pets. A glowing fish created in Singapore by inserting jellyfish and sea anemone genes into zebrafish eggs has been accepted by many U.S. consumers.

"People are happy to have them in their aquarium, but it's when it's on their dinner plat that they have a different attitude," Van Eenennaam said.

Scientists used different processes in creating glowing fish and miniature swine. With the fish, genes from other organisms were inserted into the DNA. The mini pigs were made by cutting tidbits of DNA out of the pig genome. According to the article, Van Eenennaam believes gene editing animals is no different from traditional selective breeding. Furthermore, she said the FDA's unwillingness to approved genetically engineered food animals is impeding the technology. Companies are deterred from investing in research by the uncertainty.

"(There's too much financial risk) if you go to all the effort of making an animal and it's unclear whether you're going to be able to market it," Van Eenennaam said.

Posted on Monday, October 19, 2015 at 2:13 PM

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