Genetically Engineered Pigs Might Be the Answer for One of the World's Costliest Diseases

In the U.S. and Europe alone, the disease causes $2.5bn in lost revenue annually.
Chris Young

Researchers at Edinburgh University's Roslin Institute are genetically engineering pigs to be more resistant to one of the deadliest animal diseases out there, a report by the BBC explains.

The disease in question, called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), was first recognized in the US in 1987. Symptoms include reproductive failure, pneumonia, and increased susceptibility to secondary bacterial infection, and it can cause pregnant sows to lose their litter.

The disease is responsible for approximately $560 million in lost revenue for farmers in the US each year, according to OiEAccording to a press release from the University of Edinburgh, combined with losses in Europe, that number rises to $2.5bn in lost revenue annually.

The same statement also says that vaccines have so far proven to be largely ineffective against the disease, which is endemic in most pig-producing countries.

Campaigners dispute claims of improved animal welfare

The researchers from Edinburgh hope their genetically modified pigs will soon be available to farmers globally. Their research received funding from Genus as well as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

"Animal health is a keystone of animal welfare as well as bringing benefits to food-producing economies and global food security," Dr. John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations, explained.

"This highly specific edit to the animals to ensure disease resistance is a result of decades of work at Roslin, and we’re delighted to be helping to improve animal welfare by bringing this technological breakthrough to market through this partnership with Genus."

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Genetically engineered disease resistance

However, as the BBC points out, some animal welfare campaigners argue that the creation of disease-resistant animals will, in fact, discourage farmers from employing other means of preventing disease, such as improving the welfare of their livestock.

The act of genetically engineering living things has long been a controversial topic. Just this year, scientists have released over 100 thousand genetically modified mosquitos in Florida to reduce the spread of certain diseases.

Human muscles were also recently grown in pigs by researchers at the University of Minnesota, in a move that could see organ donations coming from pig-human chimeras. 

Such moves are typically billed as having potential breakthrough applications in healthcare and in the prevention of disease, though they are met with resistance by animal welfare campaigners who argue the cruelty to the animals involved, and the possibility of detrimental effects to entire ecosystems, outweigh the potential benefits.

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