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Low-Fat, CRISPR Pigs

A team of Chinese researchers has used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to make low-fat pigs, NPR reports.

As they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Jianguo Zhao inserted the mouse UCP1 gene into modern pigs, which lack a functional version of gene. Without it, pigs accumulate fat and are susceptible to the cold.

Using a CRISPR-Cas9-mediated, homologous recombination-independent approach, they generated 12 pigs with the mouse version of the gene at the porcine UCP1 locus. These pigs were better able to regulate their body temperatures and harbored about 24 percent less fat, as the gene enables them to burn fat for warmth.

Because the pigs could maintain their body temperature better, Zhao tells NPR that such pigs could save farmers money because they'd be less likely to die in the cold. Having less fat could also be a boon since people prefer leaner pork to eat, he adds. Quartz notes, though, that whether the taste of the low-fat pigs is affected is as yet unknown.

"[The paper] demonstrates a way that you can improve the welfare of animals at the same as also improving the product from those animals — the meat," the University of Missouri's R. Michael Roberts tells NPR. He doubts, though, that regulators would allow the sale of such pigs in the US and that customers would buy their meat.