Neon pigs raised to lower our healthcare bills

Could green, glowing pigs really bring down the cost of medicine?

Scientists from Japan are seeking ways to make medicine cheaper, and their latest experiment involves pigs that glow when placed under black lighting.

Zhenfang Wu and Zicong Li of the South China Agricultural University, Guangdong, used a technique developed by reproductive scientists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine to transfer plasmids carrying a fluorescent protein from jellyfish DNA into the pig embryos.

The plasmids are tiny DNA molecules, separate from chromosomal DNA, and were transferred at a rate four times higher than usual thanks to the technique. The experiments resulted in ten transgenic piglets being born, six of them since August, and under a black light they will glow green. However, the scientists say this does not harm the animals, but simply shows the transfer of the plasmids is a success.

Dr. Stefan Moisyadi, a bioscientist with the IBR, commented:

"It's just a marker to show that we can take a gene that was not originally present in the animal and now exists in it. We can make those enzymes a lot cheaper in animals rather than a factory that will cost millions of dollars to build."

Glowing pigs might seem like an oddity rather than a valuable use of time, but the experiments herald the technique's success in future goals of introducing beneficial genes into animals which can be reared to create cost-efficient medicine. For example, anticoagulant ATryn is produced in the milk of genetically modified goats, and if current methods to create these types of animals can be improved, we can all reap the benefits.

The research has been submitted to the Biology of Reproduction journal.


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