US admins give green light to gene-edited pig sausages for human consumption

CRISPR-based pig meat has been given the green light by the FDA to be turned into sausages and fed to human beings.
Christopher McFadden
The meat should taste no different to more traditional pig meat products.


The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CRISPR-modified pig meat to be turned into sausages ready for human consumption. The meat, or rather the pigs that were slaughtered to provide it, was genetically modified by researchers at Washington State University (WSU).

This could be an important step in making genetically modified meat more mainstream by improving trust in the public regarding its safety. Not to mention strengthening the food supply, and improving animal welfare.

But, for anyone familiar with animal husbandry history, this kind of modification of animal DNA is nothing new at all. As a species, we have been selectively breeding animals for thousands of years, with most modern farm animals a far cry away from their wild ancestors. In most cases, this selective breeding produced offspring that could yield more animal products like eggs, meat, better disease resistance, etc. However, this process is slow and not foolproof.

Oftentimes, selecting one particular desirable trait (like bigger adults) can also introduce other unforeseen issues that could be less desirable. However, the advent of CRISPR could provide us with a means of better selective breeding by only targeting the genes for the particular traits we want without the baggage of other problems.

It's worth noting that gene editing of this kind is a relatively recent practice, and as of now, the FDA has only given approval for a select few gene-edited animals to be consumed by humans.

These include heat-resistant beef cattle and pigs, which are safe for people with the alpha-gal syndrome to eat, as they won't trigger any severe allergic reactions. Researchers at WSU have been granted investigational approval by the FDA to provide people with meat from a new line of genetically engineered pigs that are sterile.

The concept may seem counterintuitive, but it involves utilizing sterile male pigs as "surrogate sires" for selective breeding purposes. To this end, the WSU team utilized CRISPR to disable a specific gene, resulting in the males becoming sterile. They then proceeded to implant sperm-producing stem cells from a different pig into these males. As a result, the previously infertile males were able to produce offspring that carried the genes of the sperm-cell donor pig.

In theory, this method enables farmers to increase the number of offspring from a pig with several desirable characteristics beyond what is achievable with just its sperm. Thus, the valuable pig's reproductive capabilities are effectively transferred to other pigs. These pigs have since been slaughtered, with some meat sent to the FDA for investigation, and the rest turned into German-style sausages for sale.

"With this technology, we can get better dissemination of desirable traits and improve the efficiency of food production," lead researcher Jon Oatley told WSU News in 2020. "This can have a major impact on addressing food insecurity around the world," the added. The sausage produced by the WSU team has received FDA approval as the first gene-edited meat that was not developed by a private company. The researchers are optimistic that this approval will boost public confidence in the scientific validity of gene-edited animals.