Media Coverage

MU researchers produce litter of virus-resistant pigs


Oct 16, 2018 - Animal Pharm
By Daniel Willis

Researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) have successfully produced a litter of pigs that are genetically resistant to a deadly virus.


A team of researchers from MU, Kansas State University and Genus – a global leader in animal genetics – succeeded in breeding pigs that are resistant to transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) by means of gene editing. TGEV is a coronavirus that commonly infects the intestines of pigs, causing almost 100% mortality in young pigs.

Randall Prather, professor of animal sciences at MU, said: "Previous research had identified an enzyme called ANPEP as a potential receptor for the virus, meaning it could be an important factor in allowing the virus to take hold in pigs.

"We were able to breed a litter of pigs that did not produce this enzyme, and as a result, they did not get sick when we exposed them to the virus."

Dr Prather and his fellow researchers edited the gene responsible for making the ANPEP enzyme, resulting in a litter of seven pigs with a 'null' gene that did not produce the enzyme. When the pigs were exposed to the TGEV virus they were not infected, confirming the presence of the ANPEP enzyme is necessary for infection.

In contrast to the scores of gene mutations that naturally occur during the reproductive process, researchers only altered the expression of a single gene. Pigs that lacked the enzyme were healthy and experienced no changes in development.

Raymond Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at KSU, said: "Porcine coronaviruses are a global threat to the pig industry. One of the greatest concerns for US producers are outbreaks of new coronaviral diseases.

"Once again, this work demonstrates the importance of this technology in solving complex disease problems. Genetic modification to protect pigs from endemic and emerging diseases is the future of the pork industry."

This study follows a similarly successful development in 2015, when MU's genetic engineering team were able to breed pigs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

MU has partnered with UK-based Genus to commercialize this method of producing virus-resistant pigs – a move which has to potential to vastly improve global animal health and make global pig farmers more sustainable. Genus is currently seeking FDA approval for the use of gene editing technology towards eradicating the PRRS virus.

"Successful studies like these are critical to our continued quest at Genus to nourish the world by pioneering improved genetics and new innovations," said Johnathan Lightner, global head of research and development at Genus. 

"The opportunity to advance technologies like gene editing, which have the potential to eradicate deadly animal diseases, is incredibly exciting and strong partnerships like ours with the University of Missouri are critical to this prospect, and the future of food and agriculture."

Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News

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