Genetic Engineering

Chinese Researchers Are Trying To Edit Pigs' Genes To Resist Disease

Can they do it fast enough to stop the African swine fever apocalypse?

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An African swine fever (ASF) outbreak has reportedly killed 100 million pigs in China in the past year. The U.S. has fortunately never had a case of this devastating disease, which basically kills 100 percent of infected hogs. The Chinese outbreak is a huge problem since that country's farmers raise half of the world's 800 million pigs and Chinese consumers eat two-thirds of the world's pork. Thanks to the epidemic, pork prices have doubled in China.

Back in 2015, researchers in Britain modified domestic pig genomes to express a version of gene that enables warthogs to resist ASF. Those researchers hoped that their disease-resistant pigs would get through all the regulatory hurdles and be commercially available in five years or so.

So far, the commercial introduction of crops and livestock improved by precise gene-editing has been stymied by overregulation in both the United States and Europe. For example, it took 24 years to get Food and Drug Administration approval for the only biotech-enhanced food animal, the AquAdvantage salmon, now on the market in Canada.

Spurred by the ASF epidemic, Chinese researchers are now using CRISPR genome editing to try to create pigs resistant to the deadly virus. In fact, China now leads the world in agricultural genome-editing research. Researchers in that country have used gene editing to create more muscular beagles, cashmere goats with finer wool, and hogs with leaner meat. For the sake of healthier livestock and more productive crops, let's hope that Chinese regulators will be guided by science rather than succumb to the excessive caution hobbling their American and European peers.

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  1. Who wouldn’t want CRISPR bacon?

    1. +1

  2. While there isn’t the same glaring ethical problem here as there is with human embryos, I do wonder if there is a serious risk anyway. Suppose they successfully edit pig genes to do this and more–maybe it tastes better, maybe it’s even healthier. As a result, globally, the demand for these “superpigs” will explode, creating a sort of pig monoculture that will be extremely susceptible to whatever comes next.

    While I realize that this could happen with regular selective breeding too, this takes it to the next level, and may inject some systemic risk.

    1. The antidote to the problem you mention (yes, a very real problem) is here… (Summary: Hobbyists maintaining older breeds that are no long economically competitive: Maybe Government Almighty should subsidize them? I know; heresy is right there for hard-core libertarians! Maybe Government Almighty subsidies would actually WRECK the effort; I am open to considering that idea as well!)

      https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/resources/internal/rare-breed-facts

      Imported from there, below…

      Genetic diversity within a breed is the presence of a large number of genetic variants for each of its characteristics. All breeds within a species share at least 50% of the total diversity for the species as a whole. The other 50% is unique within the species. This variability is significant because it allows the species to adapt to changes in environments or other pressures by selection for the most successful variants. The opposite of genetic diversity is genetic uniformity. A population that is genetically uniform may be exquisitely suited to a particular environment. Unfortunately, specialization frequently results in an inability to meet the challenges imposed by and change in the environment or in selection goals. A truly uniform population has no reserve of options for change. In today’s large scale agricultural systems, only a relatively few highly specialized breeds are used to supply a majority of the world’s food resources. This places the world’s food supply at risk if anything should happen to these breeds such as disease or irreversible adverse genetic mutation. Excerpt from “Taking Stock”, published by The Livestock Conservancy.

      1. Interesting, that was kind of my thought. I wasn’t really suggesting government do something, just noting that it’s not all ponies and unicorns.

        1. “…just noting that it’s not all ponies and unicorns.”

          We need more of your kind of open-minded humanoids!!! But wait!!!
          What are you, some kind of genetically engineered-improved FREAK, or what?!?!? Are your kind gonna kick the rest of us (tribalistic rigid-minded ones) in the arses?!?!

    2. may inject some systemic risk

      I think the boat’s already left the dock on that one.

      1. Yeah, but I don’t think that is a reason to make it worse.

    3. pig monoculture

      Fuck off with your meaningless buzzwords. By your own definition, all the pigs on Earth, any lot with two pigs on it, and everything in between already constitute a monoculture.

      1. Why so angry? How does my definition suggest that?

        1. I think its because your premise pretends to education on the subject, while forwarding ideas steeped in ignorance.

          There is a functional monoculture of pigs now. Learning how to deal with this outbreak using gene editing tech will teach us how to deal with the problem you feign concern over, not cause it. There probably will be problems, though. So act like that justifies something if you need to.

          Honestly, I think nowadays most people see right through the kind of precautionary principle BS you’re peddling, which is why you have to play concern troll with a lighter touch. It didn’t work.

          1. There probably will be problems, though. So act like that justifies something if you need to.

            Except I didn’t call for any kind of government intervention. It seems 50% of people on this board are functionally illiterate, reading “government intervention” into anytime someone says “hey, maybe this isn’t all unicorns and roses.”

          2. I think its because your premise pretends to education on the subject, while forwarding ideas steeped in ignorance.

            It’s a virtue-signalling buzzword. Even the things that Metazoan has referred to as a “monoculture” are not a monoculture. Even a “monoculture” is more robust than Metazoan likes to pretend it is and even the most well maintained “monoculture” breeds loads of diversity and displays an abundance of genetic and phenotypic drift.

            It’s a bullshit term that’s predicated on falsehoods only exists because of specific social/cultural ideologies. It’s akin to a term like a ‘unified herd’ by someone advocating herd immunity. Nobody, even epidemiologists, uses the term and the few that do don’t use in any meaningful way except to say “I believe all herds should be immunized.”

    4. This is already a risk for tomatoes, corn, soybeans and it used to be a risk for apples. This scenario is exactly what caused the great Irish Potato Famine. (For a number of reasons, the Irish Lumper was pretty much the sole source of bulk nutrition in the whole country – and it was particularly susceptible to the fungus Phytophthora infestans.) In most of those cases, farmers and markets solved the problem all by themselves.

      Despite the advantages of any one breed or cultivar, there will always be a subset of consumers and farmers who prefer alternatives and who maintain a “heritage” stock. Those heritage breeds often come to command a premium which makes it cost-effective for small producers to keep them going. Markets have an incentive for maintaining diversity.

      The Irish Lumper is a notable exception. However, it is notable primarily because it was government intervention that prevented crop diversification in the first place. (See the “Corn Laws” for more.)

      1. Despite the advantages of any one breed or cultivar, there will always be a subset of consumers and farmers who prefer alternatives and who maintain a “heritage” stock. Those heritage breeds often come to command a premium which makes it cost-effective for small producers to keep them going. Markets have an incentive for maintaining diversity.

        Even if you don’t have heritage stocks, crop plants routinely exchange whole chromosomes and even non-genetic structures with non-crop plants and since the earliest days of agriculture. Since then we’ve been thoroughly *and increasingly* capable of introducing loads of genetic noise into a “monoculture” and selecting viable variants with increasing power and control. Such a concern is predicated on the assumption that CRISPR (or analogous) is the obliteration of everything that came before it rather than simply the culmination.

    5. I appreciate that there may be risk, but I’m not sure I understand why that should translate into the idea that people shouldn’t be allowed to do as they please with their own pigs unless the government says it’s okay.

      1. Agreed! I would like to buy some enviropig meat and-or some Omega-3 (fish oil) pig meat right now, and the market COULD provide it to me, but my Moral Superiors in Government Almighty stand (whips, chains, guns, and prisons in hand) to PREVENT me from buying this meat!

        Could we do an end-run and sell enviropigs as PETS, perhaps?

      2. Well, I definitely didn’t say the government should do anything.

    6. “While there isn’t the same glaring ethical problem here as there is with human embryos, ”

      I doubt the Chinese Politburo has an “ethical problem” with either.

      A few years ago you could get your genome sequenced by China for free if you could document high IQ by various means. I think that study pooped out. Maybe. Maybe the Chinese just aren’t telling.

      But they’ll keep looking, and use what they find.

  3. Can’t wait to see the unintended consequences on this one

    1. Unintended consequences is an interesting term. On the one hand, we use it to describe when socialists and statists want to raise taxes or outlaw marijuana. When we call those consequences “unintended”, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt, but we know what the consequences of ObamaCare and the Drug War will be. I’m opposed to doing things with “unintended consequences” when we know what the results will be–and they’ll be bad.

      I’m not necessarily against people doing things that might have truly unintended consequences on the basis that there might be unintended consequences. When the consequences are truly unintended and unpredictable, they could be good or great consequences. Hell, freedom probably requires being able to make choices for yourself despite not knowing exactly what the consequences will be, and we should all be free to do that so long as we don’t violate anybody’s rights.

      1. Yes! What are the unintended consequences of the precautionary principle itself? Fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine, electricity, they would ALL be forbidden to us, if NO ONE had been able to PERFECTLY predict ALL the negative consequences of all of these things! “If one life is saved”, we should all go back to living in caves!

        1. I suspect this anti-experimentation bias we see is mostly inspired by “scientists” using their illegitimate authority to try to influence global warming related policies that are actually about economics, politics, and ethics rather than science.

          If a climate scientist goes out in a drought and does a rain dance, he isn’t doing science when he prays for rain, and advocating his qualitative preferences for future generations and polar bears over other the living standards of average people isn’t science either.

          And it makes people leery of “science”–as well it should. Denying non-science is a perfectly valid reaction to having non-science shoved down your throat.

          That being said, we should be clear about the difference between science and non-science. Caring more about polar bears than coal miners isn’t science. Advocating for economy crushing taxes and wealth redistribution in the name of science isn’t science either.

          People being free to experiment with pig DNA is science.

      2. I’m not suggesting that these scientists should be stopped. Whether I have an opinion about whether someone should or shouldn’t do something does not imply that I wish to use the power of the state to violate their private property rights. Ideally, in a true free market, I’d assume that tort law is sufficient for situations such as this if there were to be any harm to individuals as a direct consequence. But then again, wouldn’t more private testing and certification companies (like Underwriters Laboratories) exist in a true free market, which could have preempted this hypothetical incident?

      3. I’ll take that one = I’m not necessarily against people doing things that might have truly unintended consequences on the basis that there might be unintended consequences.

        Yes……BUT. Two things, Ken.

        One, the moral and ethical framework of China toward this work is a relevant concern.
        Two, the downside risk to fucking up with CRISPR is pretty huge, and is a relevant concern.

      4. Davis’ Razor
        Predictable and predicted outcomes of an action that benefit the actor are *intended*.

  4. https://www.producer.com/2018/06/china-develops-an-enviro-pig/

    China develops an “Enviro-pig”

    Canadian version of enviropig was put on ice (fertilized egg cells frozen)… Canadian version was working just fine. Since over-regulation in the western world (driven by Luddites and eco-freak ninnies and nannies) meant that there was NO Government Almighty blessings for enviropig in sight, ever, the Canadian university shut it down. Even though it would have been better for the environment!

    If the rest of us all worldwide are going to be stupid scaredy-cats and wussies about all this, I hope that the Chinese KICK OUR ASSES in this field, and maybe we’ll FINALLY come around!

    1. Did the Chinese actually outright try to BUY this “tech” from the Canadian university? If not, why not? I hate to see wasted effort… It’s not like pork is much of a national security concern…

      On the other hand, I am too lazy to do more research on this!

      Anyone know? Anyone bored, and willing to check “The Google, Which Knows All Things”?

  5. Researchers in that country have used gene editing to create more muscular beagles, cashmere goats with finer wool, and hogs with leaner meat.

    Myostatin engineering (muscular beagles) is at least 30 yrs. old and arguably, since the discovery was made in selectively-bred Belgian Blue cattle, much older. Similar has been done in hogs for quite some time. The reason we don’t raise Belgian Blue cattle or similarly muscled hogs is because the meat is poorly marbled and tough and the animals damage more easily and are hard to care for.

    I certainly agree that the cashmere production is a bit of an advance but, otherwise, this kinda smacks of pro-Chinese propaganda where we laud the Chinese for policies that enable technological ‘breakthroughs’ that the West achieved decades ago. You might as well jump on the NPR bandwagon and spout outright lies in support of China’s superior management of climate change.

  6. Chinese Researchers Are Trying To Edit Pigs’ Genes To Resist Shooting Innocent People Disease

    FTFY?

    1. tough to kill the enemy when the army’s on yummy bacon.

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