Animal genetics company Genus has developed the first pigs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus, through a long-standing collaboration with the University of Missouri.
The production of PRRS-resistant pigs is a significant breakthrough in combating this devastating porcine disease, stated Genus, which adds it is excited to be progressing the development of this technology under an exclusive global license from the University of Missouri.
PRRS is a significant and harmful pig disease faced by many farmers, causing animal reproductive failure, reduced growth and premature death. Even though it has challenged the pork industry for more than 25 years, there is currently no cure for PRRS. The technology has the potential to eliminate the disease impact on the animals, improve the well-being of pigs, and enhance pig farm productivity, which ultimately will help meet the global demand for pork products.
Using precise gene editing, the University of Missouri was able to breed pigs that do not produce a specific protein necessary for the virus to spread in the animals. The early stage studies conducted by the university demonstrate these PRRS-resistant pigs, when exposed to the virus, do not get sick and continue to gain weight normally.
Genus will continue to develop this technology, and expects it will be at least five years until PRRS-resistant animals are available to farmers. Genus intends to commercialize the technology through PIC, its porcine division.
The university research results have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Nature Biotechnology, on December 7.
Speaking about this breakthrough, Dr. Jonathan Lightner, chief scientific officer and head of research & development of Genus, said: "The demonstration of genetic resistance to the PRRS virus by gene editing is a potential game-changer for the pork industry. There are several critical challenges ahead as we develop and commercialize this technology; however, the promise is clear, and Genus is committed to developing its potential. Genus is dedicated to the responsible exploration of new innovations that benefit the well-being of animals, farmers, and ultimately consumers."
Dr. Randall Prather, distinguished professor of animal sciences at the University of Missouri, said: "We are delighted to have been working with Genus and to have discovered a major breakthrough in tackling this devastating disease that causes suffering to so many animals around the world."
The breakthrough is being applauded by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
“[The] announcement of a health-enhanced pig able to resist the PRRS virus is a critical scientific breakthrough in hog farmers’ battles against the disease and is a real game changer for the pork industry,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “PRRS is an incurable viral disease that causes reproductive failure in sows, reduces growth of young pigs, and causes premature death in piglets; PRRS annually causes an estimated $664 million in lost productivity. Being able to fight this disease through advance genetic technologies will mean healthier animals, more efficient food production and more efficient risk management options for producers.”