Genetically modified piggies might save your life one day. Scientists have been working closely with pigs to ensure their organs will be suitable for humans.
37 pigs have been born completely free of viruses that have been hiding in their DNA. This is a big leap towards human transplants and was made possible by a gene editing technique called CRISPR.
CRISPR has been getting a lot of attention in the past few years, and rightly so. It’s a revolutionary technique capable of editing out entire hereditary diseases passed through generations and is now tackling cancer in human trials.
CRISPR has been used to eliminate the porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV) from the pigs DNA. This is a vital step to bring pig-to-human transplants closer to reality. PERVs were shown to be capable to move from pig cells to human cells when mixed together, which is a big issue. When PERVs are in human cells, they act similar to the HIV virus, so it needed to be deleted.
After scientists had rooted out 25 of the PERVs, cloning technology was used to insert the genetic material into a pig’s egg to create embryos. As a result, 37 pigs were produced.
“These are the first Perv-free pigs,” Dr Luhan Yang, one of the researchers from Harvard University and the spinout company eGenesis, told the BBC News website.
They were also “the most genetically modified [animals] in terms of the number of modifications”, he said.
The company eGenesis, responsible for the pig’s creation, has said that although this is good progress preventing pig organs from being rejected by the human body remains a huge challenge.