Gene Editing Saves Pigs From Gastro Virus

Coronavirus are a group of highly contagious virus known for their microscopic halos and are responsible for many of the deadly intestinal diseases in cows, sheep and pigs. Now researchers have succeeded in breeding genetically engineered pigs that are resistant to the deadly virus.

TGEV or Transmissible Gastroenteritis Virus commonly infects pigs and causes 99% of young pigs deaths that become infected. “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,” says Randall Prather, Professor of Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. “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,” he says.

“It’s a tremendous financial burden for farmers to put time, money, and labour into animals that will get sick,” says coauthor Kristin Whitworth, a Research Scientist in the Animal Sciences Division. “Breeding pigs with genetic resistance will help to ease that burden. In terms of animal welfare, if we can prevent these pigs from getting sick, we have a responsibility to do so.”

Gene mutations occur naturally from litter to litter in nature but the researchers were able to alter the expression of a single gene and the pigs experience no other changes in their development. “The collaboration with Randy and his team has established some of the most rewarding milestones of my career,” says co-author Raymond “Bob” Rowland, a Professor of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology at Kansas State University.

“Porcine coronaviruses are a global threat to the pig industry. One of the greatest concerns for 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,” Rowland says.

Like with most studies further research is required but it is a further step forward in protecting pigs from viruses. “With ANPEP eliminated, we can focus on a smaller field of potential culprits,” says co-author Kevin Wells, Associate Professor of Animal Sciences. “In this area of research, every step helps.

Source: University of Missouri

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