Scottish scientists design piglets to resist African swine fever

Piglets--Courtesy of Kabsik Park CC BY 2.0

A litter of pigs designed to be resistant to African swine fever (ASF) were recently born at a farm outside Edinburgh, Scotland, making them among the first commercially viable genetically modified animals born in Britain.

The piglets, which in the next few weeks are expected to be transferred to a high-security laboratory in Surrey, will undergo testing to see if they are resistant to ASF, The Guardian reported. If the trial is a success, it's expected an application might be made as early as later this year to the FDA for commercial approval.

Although the regulatory agency has given its nod to several genetically modified crops, it has yet to declare farm animals created using the technology as safe for human consumption.

"We need these animals to deliver something that could be a product," Bruce Whitelaw, head of developmental biology at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, told the newspaper. The institute is responsible for pigs. "If these pigs show resilience, we will go to the regulators. The limitations are no longer technical, they're legal."

The newest piglets are currently living with other pigs that were genetically engineered to have enhanced immunities to swine flu and the pig respiratory disease known as PRRS, which costs U.S. pork production operations about $664 million a year.

Bruce Whitelaw

"We're not trying to make huge pigs," Whitelaw said. "We're trying to make healthier ones."

According to a European Commission animal health official, ASF began to spread into Europe last fall from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This month about 6,000 pigs are expected to be culled from affected herds in Poland. ASF is typically transmitted by ticks.

Globally, other animals that are being developed using genetic modification techniques include dairy cows that can produce milk free from beta-lactoglobulin that can cause allergies, and "double-muscled" pigs that are larger than normal.

- check out The Guardian story