J. Craig Venter announced its team up with Lung Biotechnology Inc. of United Therapeutics Corp. to cultivate pig lungs that could possibly address the need for organ transplant for patients with later stages of lung disease.

Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) is a private company that develops and commercializes genomic advancements in different industries. The companies entered into a multi-year agreement to research and develop humanized pig lungs with the use of synthetic genomic technology. The collaboration aims to develop lungs and other organs for humans in need of transplants. If successful, SGI will earn incentives and royalties from the agreement.

400,000 patients in the United States die from different lung disease forms every year. 2,000 people who undergo a lung transplant are saved and around 2,000 are on the wait list for an annual transplant. 99% of deaths caused by lung failure are due to the shortage of human lungs for transplantation.

With the use of DNA synthesis, genome editing and tools and DNA design, SGI will engineer primary pig cells with edited genomes. The development will require modifying a large number of genes at an unparalleled efficiency and scale. United Therapeutics will use xenotransplantation to implant the engineered pig cells to generate pig embryos that will develop humanized lungs. It is notable that mammals including pigs and humans have around 90 percent the same genes.

The SGI team will determine the aspects of pig genome that have to be modified for porcine lungs to be compatible with humans and avoid chronic or acute rejection that even happens in human organ transplants.

"We're going to start with generating a brand new super-accurate sequence of the pig genome, and then go through in detail and compare it to the human genome," Venter said. "The goal is to go in and edit, and where necessary, rewrite using our synthetic genomic tools, the pig genes that seem to be associated with immune responses."

Prior attempts to develop animal organs for transplantation failed because of genomic incompatibilities, particularly with coagulation and immune systems. The SGI and Lung Biotechnology collaboration will aim to eliminate these issues.

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