More than half of “standard farmed pigs” infected with African Swine Fever die, but their warthog and bushpig relatives seem to be immune. Could pigs have something to gain from the genes of the their friends?
New research from the University of Edinburgh shows the ability of gene editing to produce pigs more likely to resist infection from African Swine Fever (ASF). Transmitted by tick bites, the ASF virus causes a severe and lethal hemorrhagic reaction in pigs due to their variation of the RELA gene. However, it is also the RELA gene that protects warthogs and bushpigs from suffering the same fate. While pig RELA genes prompt a lethal reaction from the immune system upon infection with ASF, warthog RELA genes actually reduce the immune response.
"Our goal is to improve the welfare of farmed pigs around the world, making them healthier and more productive for farmers,” said Bruce Whitelaw, PhD, Head of Developmental Biology at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute.
In their study, published in Scientific Reports
, University of Edinburgh Scientists used gene editing technologies to change just five letters of the RELA gene structure to be more like the protective warthog gene. They equipped standard farmed pigs with the beneficial variant of RELA, making it the “first time researchers have successfully swapped alleles in an animal’s genetic code using gene editing.”
In their next steps, the scientists plan to conduct controlled trials to test whether the genetic changes work the same in the context of standard farmed pigs as opposed to when they naturally occur in warthogs and bushpigs. Scientists are hopeful because none of the changes they made couldn’t have naturally appeared appeared via evolution from spontaneous mutations.
Source: University of Edinburgh