Teeny-tiny animals are something the world loves to fawn over, and scientists in China have recognized that as an excuse to enter into the domestic pet market. BGI, a Shenzhen-based genomics institute, has announced plans to genetically engineer miniature pigs and sell them to the public.
According to Nature.com, the institute initially began breeding the micropigs as test animals for researching human disease. They were created using a common gene editing enzyme called TALENs, which disables the growth hormone receptors of a Bama pig. While the Bama pig is small, its weight can reach up to 100 pounds. The new micropigs would weigh up to 33 pounds, which is about the same as a medium-sized dog.
To make the smaller, gene-edited micropigs, BGI made cloned pigs from cells taken from a Bama fetus. But before they started the cloning process, they used TALENs to disable one of two copies of the growth hormone receptor gene (GHR) in the fetal cells. Without the receptor, cells do not receive the ‘grow’ signal during development, resulting in stunted pigs.
BGI then created further micropigs by breeding stunted male clones with normal females. Only half of the resulting, naturally conceived offspring were micropigs, but the process is more efficient than repeating the full cloning procedure, and avoids potential health problems associated with cloning.
BGI has observed no adverse health issues stemming from the process. So far, at least.
The institute quoted $1,600 for the price of these pint-sized swine, though that was in order for the scientists to “better evaluate the market.” The institute is also working on being able to customize the pigs to the customer’s desired coat color and pattern. No word on whether this includes pastel shades, but I feel like we aren’t too far from that. I’m scared.
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