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Gene-edited pigs to help spread desirable traits

Male pigs that are unable to produce sperm could be ideal surrogates for the transplantation of gametes from elite sires.

A photograph of a pig

13 January 2017

A collaborative project between scientists at The Roslin Institute, The University of Maryland and Washington State has used gene-editing technology to generate germline-lacking male pigs.

The researchers used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to target a gene known to be required for germline development in mice. The NANOS2 knock-out pigs do not produce sperm but their testicular development and the function of testicular tissue is otherwise intact.

Males carrying one intact NANOS2 allele and female knock-out pigs are fertile, confirming findings in mice that the gene is specifically required for male germline maintenance.

The possibility of transplanting spermatogonial stem cells to NANOS2 knock-out pigs will facilitate the expansion of elite sperm lines and thus, directly contribute to expand enhanced production traits in a population.

This study demonstrates that gene-editing technology can be used to reliably edit the germline of livestock species and represents just one example of how it can be applied to improve the health and productivity of farmed animals.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and co-author said: “Genome editing could dramatically improve the production efficiency and welfare of farmed pigs. Our paper illustrates the first step towards an exciting application of this technology in livestock agriculture."

The research is published in Scientific Reports

Photo credit Jon Oatley, Washington State University