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Chinese scientists want to sell these teensy genetically-engineered pigs as pets

However, it’s not yet known how their health will be impacted by the process.

CHINESE SCIENTISTS MADE headlines earlier this year when they used a powerful new technique to edit the genomes of human embryos, sparking ethical debate among scientists.

Now, another group of researchers have created genetically engineered micro-pigs which they want to sell as pets, Nature News recently reported.

Researchers at the genomics institute BGI in Shenzhen used gene editing to modify Bama pigs.

Bama pigs are already teensy — they weigh about half as much as regular farm pigs.

BGI plans to sell the little creatures for about 10,000 yuan (€1,400), institute representatives announced on September 23 at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit in China.

In the future, customers will be able to order pigs with customized coat colors and patterns, they said.

Gene editing has been sweeping the biology world, largely thanks to a technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 that makes it incredibly easy. The technology opens up the possibility of curing genetic diseases and giving people, animals or crops more desirable traits.

The Chinese scientists who modified the pigs didn’t use CRISPR/Cas9, but a different gene editing technique that involves proteins known as TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases), which can target a specific gene and disable it.

To make the micropigs, they cloned a Bama pig and used TALENs to disable one of the two copies of a gene for growth hormone receptors. Because the cloned pigs lacked these receptors, they don’t grow to a normal size. Next, they bred some of the cloned male pigs with regular female pigs.

Half of the offspring were micro-sized.

The micropigs have already been used in studies of stem cells and gut microbes, and the animals’ small size makes it easier to replace the microbes in the animals’ guts, the researchers say.

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The pigs could also be used to study Laron syndrome, a form of dwarfism caused by a mutation in the human version of the growth hormone receptor gene.

By selling the animals as pets, the BGI researchers hope to raise money for their research.

And it’s not just pigs — soon we may be seeing genetically edited dogs and cats as well. Technically speaking, gene editing is not all that different from conventional breeding techniques, although it vastly speeds up the process.

While the pigs are undeniably cute, we still don’t know whether tinkering with these animals’ DNA could cause medical problems, and experts say we need regulations to ensure its done safely.

- Tanya Lewis

Read: Giggles the micro pig is running for mayor >

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