Genus, the UK-listed livestock genetics business, has bred a pig resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSv) through its long-standing collaboration with the University of Missouri (MU) in the US.
The company says that PRRSv is one of the most significant and harmful pig disease faced by many pig producers around the world in the last 25 years. It causes reproductive failure, reduced growth and premature death. There is currently no cure for PRRSv, so the new genetic technology has the potential to eliminate the disease, so improving the welfare of the pigs and enhance pig farm productivity.
The University of Missouri used a precise gene editing technology to breed pigs that do not produce a specific protein known as CD 163 that is necessary for the virus to spread in conventional animals. Early stage studies conducted by the university have demonstrated that the PRRSv resistant pigs do not get sick when exposed to the virus, and continue to gain weight normally.
Genus will continue to develop this technology under an exclusive global license from MU. It expects that it will be at least five years until PRRS resistant animals are available to farmers, with the technology commercialised through the group’s PIC porcine division. It is not clear whether the EU’s diffident regulatory approach to genetic modification will enable the PRRSv resistant animals to be marketed in Europe.
“The demonstration of genetic resistance to the PRRS virus by gene editing is a potential game-changer for the pork industry,” states Dr Jonathan Lightner, chief scientific officer and head of R&D at Genus. “There are several critical challenges ahead as we develop and commercialize this technology; however, the promise is clear, and Genus is committed to developing its potential. Genus is dedicated to the responsible exploration of new innovations that benefit the well-being of animals, farmers, and ultimately consumers.”
Kevin Wells, assistant professor of animal sciences at MU and co-author of the study, added: “At the end of our study, we had been able to make pigs that are resistant to an incurable, untreatable disease. This discovery could save the swine industry hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It also could have an impact on how we address other substantial diseases in other species.”
The university research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.