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Independent.ie

Monday 15 October 2018

Genetically edited pigs could be bred after Brexit to help stop costly disease

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have succeeded in creating pigs which are completely resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, a lethal virus which costs farmers millions each year. REUTERS/Dominique Patton/File Photo
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have succeeded in creating pigs which are completely resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, a lethal virus which costs farmers millions each year. REUTERS/Dominique Patton/File Photo

Sarah Knapton

Pigs genetically edited to resist one of the world’s most costly animal diseases could be bred after Brexit to save British farmers £50m a year.

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has already signalled that genetically modified animals could be sold after Britain leaves the European Union.

And now scientists at the University of Edinburgh have succeeded in creating pigs which are completely resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, a lethal virus which costs farmers millions each year.

The disease causes breathing problems and deaths in young animals and if pregnant sows become infected, it can cause them to lose their litter.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute used the Crispr gene editing technique to remove a small section of the CD163 gene, which carries a receptor that the virus likes to latch on to.

After exposing the pigs to the virus they found none became ill and blood tests showed no trace of the infection.

Currently genetically modified animals are banned from the food chain in Europe.

But previously government scientific advisors have said they are committed to GM and are keen to move away from strict European laws banning genetic modification in crops and animals.

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Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, of the Roslin Institute, said: “These results are exciting but it will still likely be several years before we’re eating bacon sandwiches from PRRS-resistant pigs.

“First and foremost we need broader public discussion on the acceptability of gene-edited meat entering our food chain, to help inform political leaders on how these techniques should be regulated.

“We also need to carry out longer term studies to confirm that these genetic changes do not have any unforeseen adverse effects on the animals.

“If these studies are successful and the public are accepting of this technology, we would then be looking to work with pig breeding companies to integrate these gene edits into commercial breeding stocks.”

The breakthrough was also welcomed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is funded by the Department of Business.

Jef Grainger, Associate Director of BBSRC Science Strategy, said: “This is an exciting result that demonstrates the potential for genome editing approaches to enable significant improvements to be made in the health and welfare of farmed animals, and reduce the economic impacts of diseases that are otherwise difficult to manage effectively.”

The animals show no signs that the change in their DNA has had any other impact on their health or wellbeing.

The team collaborated with Genus PLC, a leading global animal genetics company, to produce pigs with the specific DNA change.

Jonathan Lightner, Chief Scientific Officer for Genus PLC said: “These results are very exciting and further underscore the potential, through gene editing, to provide incredible benefits to the global pork industry, and society as a whole, by improving animal health.

“We look forward to further collaboration with the University on this exciting project.”

Telegraph.co.uk

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