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Precision genome engineering in animals

Researchers at The Roslin Institute have used novel technologies to target specific changes in the pig genome.

Image of a pig

Gene mutation is the central pillar of the process of evolution. In nature, gene mutation is a random process with natural selection leading to the diversity of life forms we currently enjoy on our planet. In essence, this process is a natural but random form of genome engineering.

Research at The Roslin Institute, through international collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Minnesota and Texas A&M, demonstrates that novel hybrid enzymes - called TALENs - can be used to target mutation to specific sequences of the pig genome.

TALENs are a type of DNA editor that causes site-specific cleavage of the genome. This is followed by repair of the DNA cut site by the cells natural DNA repair mechanism. This repair mechanism is error prone - hence the generation of mutations at the TALEN directed cleavage site.

This innovative technology combines efficiency and precision - this combination enabling pre-determined, accurate changes to the genome of pigs.

The TALEN technology leaves no mark in the genome beyond mutation of a predetermined site within the genome - we are just mimicking an evolutionary process with precise, man-made genome editors.

Professor Bruce WhitelawLeader of the Roslin Institute team contributing to this research

In parallel to providing new academic research streams, this technology enables novel genetic applications in the animal breeding and animal biotechnology industries. Professor Whitelaw's team is now focussing on using this innovative technology to enhance resilience to infectious disease in livestock.

DNA editors are poised to change both how we perform genome engineering in livestock and how the various stakeholder communities view this technology.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw


The study, published in Proceeding of the National Academy of Science, was funded by Genus plc, Recombinetics Inc and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  

Carlson et al (2012) Proc Natl Acad Sci 109, 17382-17387. Highlighted by Proc Natl Acad Sci Comment in Nature