Scientists Genetically Edit Pigs for Cold Resistance & Low-Fat Bacon

By modifying genomes, scientists “created” low-fat pigs that can thrive in the cold.

By Ethan L. Johns
October 24, 2017

Image: Inga Kjer/Photothek via Getty Images

What do you get when you cross a pig with a mouse? No, that’s not the set-up to a dumb pun (we’re spare-ribbing you this time). In a new paper published on Monday, Chinese scientists explained their efforts to do just that. Spoiler alert: they were successful.

Do not fret, the story is not so P.T. Barnum-grotesque as it may sound; there are no oinking mice or pawed pigs.

Most mammals possess a gene called UCP1 which helps their bodies regulate temperature. Pigs do not, so cold weather can be a challenge—especially for piglets.

Seeking to produce a pig with better cold tolerance, the scientists used the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9 to insert UCP1 from mice gene into pig embryos. After the embryos were implanted in female pigs, 12 healthy genetically modified piglets were successfully birthed.

The researchers found that the pigs not only were more successful in regulating their body temperatures in cold environments, but they did so by burning fat. Low-fat bacon anybody?

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is already making waves in the world of livestock because it shows the potential applications of genetic modification.

"[This paper] demonstrates a way that you can improve the welfare of animals at the same [time] as also improving the product from those animals — the meat," said R. Michael Roberts, the paper’s editor and a professor of animal sciences at the University of Missouri, to NPR. He believes it to be unlikely that these pigs will ever find their way to the US; FDA regulations take years to clear, and Americans are largely hesitant when it comes to consuming GMO products.

Is this research, as some would say, an expression of the scientist god complex? Or is it a practical contribution to the welfare of animals and to the quality of food?

All we know is that we prefer full-fat bacon.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns