Scientists are using a gene-editing tool to create low-fat pigs, study says

Want to enjoy bacon without the guilt? Scientists are using a gene-editing tool to create low-fat pigs, so you can.

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Chinese researchers recently conducted an experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, to determine how genetically modified pigs can "improve pig welfare and reduce economic losses," the study said.

To do so, they used a tool called CRISPR to produce a gene that helps pigs burn fat to stay warm. While other mammals, such as mice and rats, already have this gene, pigs do not.

Scientists injected a mouse version of the gene into embryonic pig cells, which were then coaxed to make more than 2,000 pig embryo clones that were genetically identical.

Twelve male piglets with the new gene were born from the embryos, and those newborns had 24 percent less body fat than pigs without the gene.

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The low-fat pigs “showed an improved ability to maintain body temperature during acute cold exposure, but they did not have alterations in physical activity levels or total daily energy expenditure,” the authors wrote. They also said the gene “dramatically decreased fat deposition.”

While an autopsy of the animals showed their organs and tissues were functioning normally after six months, it’s unclear whether the change affects the taste and quality of the pork produced.

Furthermore, the safety of the CRISPR gene hasn’t been completely proven, but scientists are still hopeful about their findings.

The authors said the low-fat 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.”

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