Gene-edited pigs are resistant to billion dollar virus, study finds

Gene-edited pigs are resistant to billion dollar virus, study finds

Scientists have produced pigs that can resist one of the world’s most costly animal diseases, by changing their genetic code.

Tests with the virus - called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS - found the pigs do not become infected at all.

The animals show no signs that the change in their DNA has had any other impact on their health or wellbeing.

PRRS costs the pig industry around $2.5 billion (£1.75bn) each year in lost revenue in the US and Europe alone.

The disease causes breathing problems and deaths in young animals and if pregnant sows become infected, it can cause them to lose their litter. The virus infects pigs using a receptor on their cells’ surface called CD163. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute used gene editing techniques to remove a small section of the CD163 gene.

They focused on the section of the receptor that the virus attaches to, leaving the rest of the molecule intact. The team collaborated with Genus PLC, a leading global animal genetics company, to produce pigs with the specific DNA change.

Previous studies had shown that cells from these animals were resistant to the virus in lab tests. This is the first time researchers have exposed these pigs to the virus to see if they become infected. They found that none of the animals became ill when exposed to the virus. Blood tests found no trace of the infection.

Dr Christine Burkard pictured with gene-edited pigs that are resistant to one of the world’s most costly animal diseases, PRRS virus. Copyright: Norrie Russell

This research, co-funded by BBSRC and Genus PLC, is published in the Journal of Virology.

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