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Gene-edited ‘micropigs’ to be sold as pets at Chinese institute


Cutting-edge gene-editing techniques have produced an unexpected byproduct — tiny pigs that a leading Chinese genomics institute will soon sell as pets.

BGI in Shenzhen, the genomics institute that is famous for a series of high-profile breakthroughs in genomic sequencing, originally created the micropigs as models for human disease, by applying a gene-editing technique to a small breed of pig known as Bama. On 23 September, at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit in China, BGI revealed that it would start selling the pigs as pets. The animals weigh about 15 kilograms when mature, or about the same as a medium-sized dog.

At the summit, the institute quoted a price tag of 10,000 yuan (US$1,600) for the micropigs, but that was just to “help us better evaluate the market”, says Yong Li, technical director of BGI’s animal-science platform. In future, customers will be offered pigs with different coat colours and patterns, which BGI says it can also set through gene editing.

With gene editing taking biology by storm, the field’s pioneers say that the application to pets was no big surprise. Some also caution against it. “It’s questionable whether we should impact the life, health and well-being of other animal species on this planet light-heartedly,” says geneticist Jens Boch at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany. Boch helped to develop the gene-editing technique used to create the pigs, which uses enzymes known as TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) to disable certain genes.

How to regulate the various applications of gene-editing is an open question that scientists are already discussing with agencies across the world. BGI agrees on the need to regulate gene editing in pets as well as in the medical research applications that make up the core of its micropig activities. Any profits from the sale of pets will be invested in this research. “We plan to take orders from customers now and see what the scale of the demand is,” says Li. Continue Reading →

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How DNA barcoding can prevent foodborne illness outbreaks

In 2012, when several hundred people fell ill in the U.S. amid a salmonella outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration was quickly able to isolate the exact strain of salmonella that had found its way into the contaminated sushi-grade tuna — and then trace it to the exact processing plant where the fish originated in India. (Not surprisingly, the FDA found 10 sanitation oversights, four of which were considered egregious.)
Then in 2014, the FDA managed to prevent a listeria outbreak from going beyond seven illnesses and one death when it traced the strain of the pathogen to soft cheeses manufactured by Ross Foods, which has since been shut down. Both findings are thanks to DNA sequencing, which is helping not only to identify which species of animals we might be eating, but even which strains of foodborne pathogens might be present in our food. The implications are broad. Knowing at a genetic level what we are eating isn’t just good for our health (think food allergies, high mercury levels, etc.) and for our wallets (how much are we really paying for tilapia?), but also for the animals (some of which are endangered or illegally hunted). Continue Reading →

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Next-generation genomics key to global food and nutritional security


More than 300 delegates representing private and public sectors from 30 countries worldwide convened at the International Crops Research for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) global headquarters to deliberate on future collaborations and ways to integrate next-generation genomics into the future of crop improvement  to contribute to global food and nutrition security. “Making a hunger- and malnutrition-free society is the ultimate goal of every agricultural scientist and stakeholder. Next-generation genomics backed by strong technological advancements will facilitate science-based agricultural innovations such as the development of nutrition-rich crops to eradicate hunger.”

This was according to Dr MS Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and Father of India’s Green Revolution, at today’s successful conclusion of the three-day 5th International Conference on Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement (NGGIBCI-V) held on 18-20 February 2015. Genomics – or deciphering the genomic content of crop species using high-throughput and next-generation approaches – allows the scientific community access to ‘good genes’ to speed up breeding for superior crop varieties with agronomically important traits. “It is not so much a question of more food. Continue Reading →

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