Researchers are changing pig genes
Factory farming today leads to many different problems. One of these problems are diseases that break out among animals that require very large amounts of money to treat them. Researchers have now genetically engineered pigs to develop immunity to one of the most costly animal diseases. The fundamental criticism of genetically modified food remains, however, and it is extremely questionable whether consumers would even be willing to consume meat from genetically modified pigs.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have genetically engineered animals to be immune to the common animal disease. The experts published the results of their current investigation in the English-language journal "Journal of Virology".
What is PRRS?
The so-called Porzine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) is a feared virus-related illness and cannot be treated with medication. PRRS causes fertility disorders and respiratory diseases in the animals. Unfortunately, the symptoms are often very difficult to recognize. PRRS costs pig breeders several million euros every year, and the disease also reduces farm productivity.
Genetic engineering is a controversial topic
The so-called gene editing technology is rightly extremely controversial for many people. The experts report that the genetic modification of the pigs to protect against PRRS could be used in commercial farms in Great Britain within five years.
30 percent of pigs suffer from PRRS
Pigs infected with PRRS can be safely eaten, but the virus causes respiratory problems in animals and causes piglet deaths. There is no effective cure or vaccination and despite extensive biosecurity measures, it is believed that around 30 percent of pigs in England are infected with PRRS, the study's authors explain.
Animals developed complete immunity
After deleting a small section of DNA that made the pigs susceptible to the disease, the animals showed no symptoms or traces of infection, even if they were deliberately exposed to the virus and if they lived with infected animals for extended periods. This can be called complete immunity, explains study author Christine Tait-Burkard from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.
Is meat from genetically modified animals sold in the supermarket?
The results of the research work could have enormous advantages for animal welfare, in addition there would also be strong economic advantages for agriculture, according to the study authors. However, it may still be a few years before pork from PRRS-resistant pigs is put on the market. So far, genetically modified animals across Europe have been excluded from the food chain. It remains to be seen whether the public would use genetically modified meat at all, the experts add.
What is gene editing?
The technique used for gene processing differs from older genetic modification techniques, in which genes were often transferred from one species to another. In contrast, genetic engineering uses precise molecular tools to remove small sections of DNA or to change individual parts in the genetic code, the doctors explain. This speeds up processes that can occur naturally over many generations.
Farmers will be delighted
In the study, the animals showed no evidence that changing their DNA had a negative impact on their health, fertility, or well-being. Farmers will be excited about the possibility of protection against PRRS because they know that this disease leads to very high costs and significantly reduces the quality of life of pigs, the researchers hope. But the issue of genetic engineering is also controversial among farmers.
Further research will take place in the United States
Further studies are now being carried out in the United States because the regulatory framework is clearer there, the study authors explain. The experts further explain that it is easier to achieve public acceptance in the USA, which is difficult in the EU. Here one gets the impression that a commercial application is essential and that basic research is not the focus of the study authors.
Excessive use of antibiotics must be avoided
While there is no topical treatment for the virus, one of its effects is that the virus interferes with the immune system. This increases the risk that the animals develop so-called secondary infections. For this reason too, antibiotics are generally used as a comprehensive treatment for pigs when the pathogens are detected in an agricultural holding, the researchers say. Here you see another advantage of the technical change, since it is known that it is extremely important to reduce the excessive use of antibiotics in farms in order to avoid the spread of resistant bacteria. (as)