We’re One Step Closer to Growing Human Organs Inside of Pigs

In an effort to tackle the organ donor shortage, researchers in the United States have successfully created part-human, part-pig embryos and implanted them into a sow. Eventually, these animals could act as incubators for human organs, which concerns some ethicists.

Source: We’re One Step Closer to Growing Human Organs Inside of Pigs

To be clear: you can use your own cells in the pig chimera and get organs that are fully compatible with your own, genetically. While we hopefully figure out how to construct organs from scratch quickly and relatively cheaply, for the time being this is the best way to produce fully functional organs reliably.

In Vitro is Chauvinist: The Sex Ratio of IVF Babies is Skewed Towards Males

Got to admit, I thought this was about eugenics and culture.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) accounts for up to five percent of babies born in developed countries, and the technique has yielded some five million people ever since Louise Brown was born in the UK on July 25, 1978. And that’s just humans; the technology has been a huge boon in breeding farm animals. Yet there are hints that the procedure can have some unwanted effects on the resultant embryos. One such indication is a skewed sex ratio.

Source: In vitro is chauvinist: The sex ratio of IVF babies is skewed towards males

Looks like the fix is just a change in culture medium. It will take some time for this to become mainstream for human IVF. It also looks like (from the abstract) that this extra bath doesn’t harm male embryos in any way, so it won’t require genetic testing of embryos to sort out the girls (extra $$$ and mandatory freeze).

The best part is that this fix will likely increase overall success rates as those female embryos that would have failed instead thrive. Even a small % increase in success means so much to people desperately trying for a child, regardless of gender.

Three Little [Gene-Edited] Pigs Are Immune to Problematic Viruses

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) gives pigs a fever and cough, but it costs American swine farmers over $600 million a year. Vaccines have been ineffective at fighting it, as has breeding pigs to be resistant. Last year, researchers in the Midwest used CRISPR-Cas9-based gene engineering to generate pigs that lack CD163, the protein that PRRS uses to infect its target cells in pigs. Now, the same team just demonstrated that the pigs lacking the receptor don’t get sick when exposed to PRRS.

Source: Three little (gene-edited) pigs are immune to problematic viruses

While the science is pretty cool, in some ways I’m more interested to see how this type of manipulation is going to play out in terms of IP law. I presume it means that pig farmers will have to purchase a license and will be forbidden to breed the animals (or be fined for any hybrids found on their property), based on how it’s worked out in the corn industry.

I’m a bit skeptical of the statement that knocking out CD163 did not affect the pigs in any adverse way. In humans, the function of CD163 is:

as an acute phase-regulated receptor involved in the clearance and endocytosis of hemoglobin/haptoglobin complexes by macrophages, and may thereby protect tissues from free hemoglobin-mediated oxidative damage. This protein may also function as an innate immune sensor for bacteria and inducer of local inflammation.

I wonder if these knockout pigs might be more at risk for other diseases. The pigs were sacrificed at 1 month, so I doubt the researchers know yet.

This Little Piggie Was Bred To Be A Symbol Of Danish Resistance

It was the early 1900s, and Danes in Schleswig, repressed under German rule, decided to use biology to fight back. No, they didn’t make a biological weapon. They made a pig. This is the Danish Protest Pig.

Source: This Little Piggie Was Bred To Be A Symbol Of Danish Resistance

What a delightfully polite if passive-aggressive protest! 😀

Transgenic Pigs Shatter Transplant Records, Potential for Unlimited Organ Supply

Cheap liver replacement? I’ll drink to that! 😉

With the financial aid of a biotechnology executive whose daughter may need a lung transplant, U.S. researchers have been shattering records in xenotransplantation, or between-species organ transplants.

The researchers say they have kept a pig heart alive in a baboon for 945 days and also reported the longest-ever kidney swap between these species, lasting 136 days. The experiments used organs from pigs “humanized” with the addition of as many as five human genes, a strategy designed to stop organ rejection.

Source: Surgeons Smash Records with Pig-to-Primate Organ Transplants

It’s a race to see which will work and come out on top – this, or scaffolding.  Organ donation/harvesting from pigs has been on the radar for decades because our genes are quite similar.  But as the article points out, there are important differences that they are working on addressing.

Does a Diet of Chestnuts Really Flavor the Meat of a Pig?

Those of us watching Hannibal know that when Hannibal feeds someone chestnuts, it’s a warning sign. Supposedly a diet of chestnuts flavors meat. Let’s look at several studies on the subject (done with pigs, not humans) and try to determine if that’s true.

Source: Does a Diet of Chestnuts Really Flavor the Meat of a Pig?

What’s interesting is that some will warn about this for those with nut allergies.  I don’t know if it is actually a risk, but who wants to find out?

Pigs Are Much, Much Weirder Than You Ever Realized

Did you know that in the Old West, people used to have pig drives, the same way they had cattle drives? They marched huge herds of pigs across the country to be slaughtered. Also, pigs attack and kill people every year, including one man who was pinned to his tractor. We have a very strange relationship with pigs. A new book, Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig, tells you everything you need to know about the fascinating history of swine. You’ll learn how much you really have in common with pigs, plus everything else that you didn’t know you wanted to know.

Source: Pigs Are Much, Much Weirder Than You Ever Realized

You reap what you sow.   This boars me, but I shouldn’t hog all the humor… 🙂

Can Pigs Empathize?

There are a handful of traits that scientists and philosophers would argue would make us human, including self-awareness and language. Another key part of being human is thought to be our ability to empathize (although I sometimes find myself doubting some humans’ abilities to empathize). I also doubt that we are the only animal that has empathy. However, this can be tricky to test. If we define empathy as Franz de Waal does as ‘‘the capacity to be affected by and share the emotional state of another, assess the reasons for the other’s state and identify with the other, adopting his or her perspective’’ how would we go about testing this in a non-human animal?

Take, for example, pigs. We know that pigs are ‘intelligent’ animals (whatever that word really means) and that they feel emotions such as stress.  They are also social animals, and so presumably if other animals do empathise with one another, then a pig might be a likely candidate.

Source: Can Pigs Empathize?

That’ll do pig, that’ll do…

Surprising Origins of the Animals [Some of] You Eat

Just what will you be putting on your plate during this holiday season? You probably already know that centuries of selective breeding have produced the creatures we love to feast on, but you might be surprised at how weird the process has been. Here are the 10 most startling origin stories for the animals that most people eat.

Source: The 10 Most Surprising Origins of the Animals You Eat

On a similar note, I treeplanted with a person who enjoyed dogs but would never own one for sake of the domestication the animal species has undergone over centuries.  Which brings up another point – that the list in the article is predominantly North American.