Popular Science | Scientists have been tinkering with the genes of plants and animals for years to cure diseases, make fruits and vegetables heartier or tastier, produce crops that are resistant to pests, drought, and other scourges, or prompt fish to grow faster.
In recent years, however, thanks in part to the ravages of climate change, some researchers who manipulate genes have assumed a new focus: saving the planet.
Among other things, they are making grass more palatable for cows and designing climate-friendly cattle that expel less heat-trapping methane. And now they have turned to pigs.
Pork: the world’s favorite meat
Globally, people consume more pork than any other meat. But there is a big environmental downside to raising pigs.
Pigs can’t make three important enzymes they need to digest the nitrogen and phosphorus in their feed.
So they poop most of it out, which ends up polluting the air and water. Pig farmers could add these enzymes to pig grain, but that would cost more money, so scientists have come up with another way to fix the problem.
By tweaking the animals’ genes, they’ve made a new generation of transgenic pigs better able to digest these nutrients. They did it by transferring DNA fragments needed to make the required enzymes (β-glucanase, xylanase and phytase) through a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, a fancy name for cloning.
“It’s a mature technology that’s been applied in reproduction of various animals for decades,” says Huaqiang Yang, a scientist at South China Agricultural University, and member of the research team.
The scientists selected the enzymes to be compatible with the microbial communities in the animals’ digestive tracts, and to allow the salivary glands to secrete them. This assures that digestion starts in the mouth, the scientists say, making the process more efficient. Read the full story at Popular Science.