March 27, 2015


US researchers produce genome-edited pigs 



Scientists from the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources have successfully produced genome-edited pigs using a recently developed, groundbreaking technique called the CRISPR system.


Two years of intense research by the scientists -- Dr. Bhanu Telugu, an assistant professor and Dr. Ki-Eun Park, a faculty research assistant, both of the college's Department of Animal & Avian Sciences -- resulted in 18 piglets born recently, according to the university, which described the feat as a breakthrough in the field of genetic engineering.


Known as a "target and replace/modify function" for DNA, the CRISPR system has dramatically improved scientists' ability to disable genes or modify their function inside any living cell. Originally discovered in a natural system used by bacteria to protect themselves from infection by viruses, the CRISPR method is currently being tested in various biomedical applications on a variety of species.


'One of most important animals'


Park and Telugu's lab is one of only a handful in North America to successfully use the method in pigs.


"From a bio-medical standpoint, the pig is really one of the most important animals," said Telugu, noting that other large animal models like cows or sheep don't have digestive systems, diets or physiology similar enough to humans' to provide insight into human diseases.


Park and Telugu were able to put their own "spin" on the method, discovering a way to directly modify nucleotides, rather than deleting specific genes to achieve their desired result. The duo is pursuing a patent on this technique.


Although Park and Telugu's research is not related to production for human consumption, they plan to look for applications that would improve animal welfare, including disease resistance.  


Telugu recently received a $1.6-million grant from the US Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to research flu resistance in pigs. He plans to further that research using this new technique.

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