Surgical castration for pigs eliminated through gene editing
Gene editing for eliminating pig castration is showing the first results. “Alliance to End Surgical Castration of Swine”, a venture comprising Recombinetics/Acceligen and Hendrix Genetics, developed an approach that prevents sexual maturation in swine without introducing any foreign material into the genes of pigs.
The companies successfully used a genome editing method to create swine that remain in a pre-pubertal state, thus eliminating the need for surgical castration. Usually, male piglets are castrated to improve the quality of meat for consumers, but this practice is also a concerning animal welfare issue, as it is usually performed without pain management.
Two years ago, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a grant to Recombinetics, Inc. to end surgical swine castration and the results are visible now.
“This first litter of permanently prepubescent piglets is a huge success. Not only does the industry benefit, but once this technology is deployed commercially, we can eliminate an animal welfare issue while maintaining a quality product for consumers,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR executive director.
Intact male pigs experience “boar taint,” which causes an unpleasant odor and unsavory taste in the resulting meat. Male pigs are castrated young to prevent boar taint; pain relievers are rarely administered. Castrated piglets show an acute physiological stress response to castration, including increased stress hormone levels, elevated heart rate and demonstrated indicators of pain that can last for four days following the procedure. The European Union has banned the practice of swine castration, but its implementation has been delayed amid challenges to the costs of implementation.
This project has successfully deleted the gene that triggers the release of hormones necessary for sexual maturation in the piglets’ DNA, preventing them from reaching puberty, and thus negating the need to castrate the pigs. The next step in this research is determining the commercial viability of castration-free pigs. Since these prototype pigs were created to be permanently prepubescent, the alliance is determining how to breed these pigs without comprising traits like feed efficiency and meat quality. The alliance comprises some of the largest pig genetic companies in the world, possessing the capacity and capabilities needed to supply these permanently prepubescent pigs to pork producers worldwide. "At Hendrix Genetics, we are very excited about the birth of the first castration-free piglets. This is an important step to end one of the biggest concerns of the swine industry regarding animal well-being. Within Hypor, Hendrix Genetics’ swine business unit, we are continuously exploring new opportunities to support the pork value chain with innovative and sustainable genetic solutions,” said Luis Prieto Garcia, Managing Director Swine, Hendrix Genetics.