In an attempt to advance the fight against the African Swine Fever, a highly contagious disease that affects pigs and kills up to two-thirds of infected animals, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have utilized advanced genetic techniques to create pigs that they hope are resilient against the disease. These new pigs contain a version of a gene that is typically found in warthogs and bush pigs, which researchers claim may help stop them from succumbing to the infection.
The gene in question is called RELA, which causes the immune system to overreact and is associated with the disease. The team, knowing that warthogs and bush pigs carry different versions of the gene compared to farmed pigs, believes that the unique RELA variant could be linked to a decrease in immune response and may be the reason for their increased resistance to the disease.
Using a gene editing technique to modify the pigs' genetic code, the team was able to modify the RELA gene in farmed pigs into the variant seen in warthogs and bush pigs, marking the first time that researchers have successfully used gene editing to swap gene variants in an animal's genetic code.
With the gene swap successful, the team is now set to conduct controlled trials in order to test the pigs' resilience to the disease and determine if their genetic modifications have made any difference.
"Our goal is to improve the welfare of farmed pigs around the world, making them healthier and more productive for farmers," Bruce Whitelaw, who is participating in the research, said in a press release.
Currently, the African Swine Fever has seen recent outbreaks in Eastern Europe in addition to its typical breeding grounds in Sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of Russia, leading to worries that it might spread.
The findings were published in the Feb. 22 issue of Scientific Reports.