Scientists from BGI, a genomics institute based in Shenzhen, China, had announced that the company will be selling its newly-developed micropigs for $1,600. The company, which is known to have provided exquisite breakthroughs in the field of genomic sequencing, publicized its decision to sell its genetically-altered hogs at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit on Sept. 23.

According to Yong Li, technical director of BGI's animal-science platform, the initial price of the micropigs is intended to help the company better assess the market. Each matured genetically-engineered pig pet weighs approximately 15 kilograms, which is similar to that of a medium-sized dog. The next plan of the company is to sell the micropigs in different colors and patterns, which, according to the company, may also be performed using gene editing techniques.

Micropigs were originally created to serve as subjects for various human disease studies. Although pigs exhibit closer resemblance to humans in terms of genetic and physiologic makeup compared to rats and mice, they are not commonly used in researches because of their large size. This is because a heavier study subject entails higher doses of test substances and more maintenance needs thus, requiring higher costs, which may hurt tests that involve expensive experimental drugs.

The researchers created the micropigs by first using an enzyme called transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) to deactivate one of the two copies of the growth hormone receptor gene (GHR) in the cells of a Bama pig fetus. Because of this action, the cells are barred to receive the hormone that enables them to grow and thus remains stunted. The researchers then cloned the cells of the pig to come up with the final invention.

The scientists developed more micropigs by breeding the normal female pigs with genetically-engineered mini male pigs. After breeding, only about 50 percent of the offsprings came out as micropigs but this process was said to entail lesser health deficits and is more efficient than duplicating the entire cloning mechanism. According to Li, the second-generation pigs, which totaled to 20, did not exhibit any adverse health impacts.

Having micropigs as pets has already garnered different opinions from experts. Daniel Voytas, a geneticist at the University of Minnesota hopes that this gene-edited petting trend will not hinder the progress of creating new techniques to help address human diseases and develop new crops.

"I just hope we establish a regulatory framework - guidelines for the safe and ethical use of this technology - that allows the potential to be realized," he added.

International experts are already talking about the procedures that may be involved in regulating the different applications of gene-editing measures. BGI has agreed that regulations for gene-editing and other medical studies are needed.

In the meantime, BGI is focused on the retailing their micropigs, which profits will be invested for further research.

"We plan to take orders from customers now and see what the scale of the demand is," said Li.

Photo: Connie Ma | Flickr

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