Chinese scientists have used genetic engineering to breed pigs with 24 per cent less fat than normal swines, potentially saving farmers significant resources used in heating and feeding the animals.
In a paper published on Monday (Oct 23) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists said that modern pigs lack a gene, called UCP1 - which is present in most other mammals - making them susceptible to the cold and prone to fat deposition.
To counter that, the scientist edited a mouse version of the gene into pig cells and then used those cells to create 2,553 cloned pig embryos, which they implanted into 13 sows. Three of the pigs became pregnant, producing 12 piglets, the report showed.
When they were six months old, the pigs were slaughtered and autopsies showed that their organs and tissues seemed to be normal. At least one male is even reported to have mated and produced healthy offspring.
The hogs showed “an improved ability to maintain body temperature, decreased fat deposition, and increased carcass lean percentage”, the scientists said in their report.
The development could be a “valuable resource” for agricultural production in terms of improved pig welfare and reduced economic losses, the paper said.
Lead researcher Mr Zhao Jianguo of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told US media outlet NPR: "This is a big issue for the pig industry … They could maintain their body temperature much better, which means that they could survive better in the cold weather.”