These Adorable Pet Pigs Could Save Thousands of Human Lives

Ben Benoy Economy and MarketsBack in April I reported how the Chinese admitted they’d tweaked the genes of a human embryo for the first time in history.

As you can imagine this launched quite a moral and ethical uprising. It’s been an unwritten rule: don’t experiment with, edit, or compromise the integrity of a live human gene.

You may fall on either side of the fence. It’s no doubt a morally complex issue. There’s also no doubt it has the potential to do some good.

However you feel about it, the Chinese are at it again. But this time, they’re dialing back their approach.

Researchers at the genomics institute BGI in Shenzen have now focused their sites on editing the genes of Bama pigs to make them into tiny, adorable pets!

Who knows, it might just be an attempt to get some good PR after causing such a ruckus in the biotech community. Who’s going to start a fuss over cute animals?

Bama pigs are already roughly half the size of normal farm pigs. But BGI has gone one step further: they’ve taken the Bama’s DNA, and genetically engineered them into “micropigs.”

BGI plans to sell these little specimens for 10,000 yuan, or $1,600, offering customers the option to order pigs with customized colors and patternrns. Finally, a designer pet to match every outfit you have.

The technology is a little different than the MIT-developed CRISPR/Cas9 platform used to edit human embryos.

The pig’s DNA is instead being tweaked with a gene-editing technique called TALENs ­– or transcription activator-like effector nucleases.

TALENs allows a desired gene to make it into the animal’s DNA by targeting other genes and disabling them. That enables the desired gene to go through.

Short of granting the swine a pair of wings to take to the sky, this editing technique has massive practical applications – especially for saving human lives.

8,000 people die every year waiting on an organ transplant that never comes. And pigs are already being used to solve the supply and demand issue by growing human organs inside them.

With the TALENs editing technique, researchers will be able to tweak a pig’s biology at greater speed, allowing for faster results for testing and implementation.

Eventually, BGI plans to take the proceeds from the pig sales and use them to fund further research.

So if you see a designer pig on your next trip to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, you’ll know what it’s going toward.

I’ve added the TALENs technology and similar terms into my social media collective intelligence system, which I use to identify potential plays in BioTech Intel Trader.

We can get a jump-start on the market by tracking disruptive technology similar to this. I’ll let subscribers know if it gets some momentum in the publicly traded companies.

Ben Benoy

Ben Benoy

Editor, Biotech Intel Trader