GENET archive


5-Animals: Pork that's good for the heart may be possible with cloning

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Pork That's Good for the Heart May Be Possible With Cloning
SOURCE: The New York Times, USA, by Gina Kolata
DATE:   27 Mar 2006

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Pork That's Good for the Heart May Be Possible With Cloning

A group of university researchers said yesterday that they had created
what sounds like a nutritional holy grail: cloned pigs that make their
own omega-3 fatty acids, potentially leading to bacon and pork chops that
might help your heart.

For now, the benefits of the research are theoretical. Omega-3 fatty
acids, which have been linked to a lowered incidence of heart disease,
are primarily found in fish. No one knows whether they would have the
same effect if eaten in pork.

And government approval for such genetically modified foods is certain to
face monumental opposition from some consumer groups. Some already object
to feeding farm animals genetically modified grain, and genetically
modifying the animals themselves and cloning them would be "a double
whammy," said Joseph Mendelson, the legal director for the Center for
Food Safety, a nonprofit group that opposes the use of genetically
engineered products. "I am confident that consumers would not want them."

Still, some scientists say the findings, published online by the journal
Nature Biotechnology, are an important forerunner of things to come.
Although close to a dozen animals have been cloned in the decade since
Dolly the sheep, using cloning to change the nutritional value of farm
animals is groundbreaking.

"At this point, it's a new era," said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor
of nutrition science and policy at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman
School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Alexander Leaf, an emeritus professor of clinical medicine at Harvard,
said he was confident that pork and other foods with omega-3's would
eventually get to American consumers and that they would be better for it.

"People can continue to eat their junk food," Dr. Leaf said. "You won't
have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need."

For years, people have been urged to eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty
acids. But fish can be expensive, not everyone likes it, and omega-3's
are in greatest abundance in oily fish like tuna, which contains mercury.

That nutritional conundrum led a group of scientists from Harvard Medical
School, the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center to think of modifying pigs.

What resulted was five white piglets with muscle tissue larded with
omega-3 fatty acids. They live at the University of Missouri in
individual pens with fiberglass-railed sides, concrete floors and black
foam pads for beds.

Pigs with their own omega-3 fatty acids exist in nature, notably a
Spanish breed called Ibérico. But Dr. Jing X. Kang, an associate
professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of
the new paper, said pigs were only the beginning, adding that he was also
developing cows that made omega-3's in their milk and chickens that had
the fatty acids in their eggs.

It will be years before such products make their way to market, if ever.
Michael Herndon, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, said
in an e-mail message that research with genetically engineered animals
would probably require approval from the agency and that the F.D.A. "also
expects documentation of plans regarding the disposition of all
investigational animals after their participation in the study is completed."

Mr. Herndon said the F.D.A. had not yet approved any genetically modified
animals for food.

Mr. Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety added that his group worried
about the ability of the food and drug agency to determine the safety of
genetically modified foods. And he said the cloning process could produce
unhealthy animals.

For those who do not object to genetically modified or cloned animals,
the question is whether eating such altered foods will make a difference
in health. And on that, "all bets are off," said Dr. Lichtenstein of Tufts.

Many questions remain, she said: How important are omega-3 fatty acids to
human health? Would getting the fatty acids in meat be the same as
getting them in fish? And is it really such a good idea to put omega-3's
into foods like pork that contain saturated fats and cholesterol, which
could increase risk of heart disease?

Dr. Kang said the work began a few years ago when he put a gene for the
production of omega-3 fatty acids into mice. Mammals do not have that
gene; it is found instead in microorganisms, plankton, algae and worms,
he said. Fish get the fatty acids by eating algae.

Dr. Kang used a gene from roundworms that converts an abundant form of
fatty acid, omega-6, to omega-3. He had to modify the worm enzyme, making
it into one that would function in mammals.

Then he injected the gene for the enzyme into mouse embryos, some of
which took it up, yielding mice that made their own omega-3's. (In a
paper that is being readied for publication, he says these mice are
protected from a variety of chronic illnesses, presumably because they
make the fatty acids.)

The next step was to create pigs with the enzyme. That work was done by
Randall S. Prather, a pig cloning expert at the University of Missouri,
who used genetically modified pig cells to create the five cloned pigs
that had the gene in every cell of their bodies and made their own omega-
3 fatty acids in their muscles.

Although pigs have been cloned before -- along with a growing list of
animals, including sheep, mice, rats, cows, goats, rabbits, cats, a mule,
a horse and a dog -- these are the first livestock to be cloned and
genetically modified to make omega-3's.

Dr. Prather said the omega-3 pigs, born in November, will be bred when
they reach puberty. Then, he said, "we will distribute them to
researchers who are interested."

Pigs are often used to study heart disease, and the cloned pigs offer a
new opportunity, Dr. Prather said. Instead of comparing human populations
who happen to eat, or not eat, foods with abundant omega-3, scientists
can ask their question directly: Compared with pigs without the omega-3
fatty acids, do these cloned pigs have a reduced heart attack risk, or
don't they?

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  This salmon has an 'oink'
        Genetically altered pork high in omega-3
SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, USA, by Denise Gellene / The Chicago Tribune
DATE:   27 Mar 2006

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This salmon has an 'oink'
Genetically altered pork high in omega-3

If a new kind of pork makes it to the dinner table, healthy eaters might
finally be free to, well, pig out.

Scientists using genetic engineering have produced pigs rich in omega-3
fatty acids, a kind of healthy fat abundant in many fish but not
naturally found in meat.

The acids are believed to offer some protection against heart attacks,
and federal nutrition guidelines recommend them in daily diets.

Questions remain, however. Because the research is in its early stages,
no one has yet sampled the pigs to see if they still taste like pork.

Harvard University's Jing Kang, one of the scientists involved in the
study, is confident the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the new pigs
aren't high enough to ruin the flavor.

"There should be no difference," he said, adding that, as far as he can
tell, the pigs "don't smell fishy."

The team from Harvard, the University of Missouri and Pittsburg State
University in Kansas used a gene from an earthworm, which naturally
produces omega-3 fatty acids, to genetically modify their pigs.

Ten male piglets were born. DNA analysis showed that six had the
earthworm gene, according to the study published online Sunday in the
journal Nature Biotechnology.

Kang said the cloned pigs produced one-fifth the amount of omega-3 fatty
acids found in salmon, considered the best source of the healthy fat. But
he said successive generations bred the old-fashioned way would likely
produce higher amounts of omega-3.

Right now, the pigs have one copy of the earthworm gene, but through
selective breeding, their progeny could acquire two.

"I am confident we can go much higher," said Kang, whose research was
funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Mark Boggess, director of animal sciences at the National Pork Board,
offered some cautions. Higher omega-3 fatty acids "would probably have
some bearing on the melting point and consistency of the fat and how firm
it is at room temperature," he noted.

Getting the pigs to market could also be a challenge. The Food and Drug
Administration has not allowed any genetically altered animals to enter
the food chain.

Before clearing the meat for consumption, the FDA requires detailed
biological information. "They treat them like they are a new drug," said
University of Illinois professor Matthew Wheeler, who has been working on
genetically engineered animals for 13 years.

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Scientists work on healthier bacon
SOURCE: Associated Press, by Paul Elias / The Pueblo Chieftain, USA
DATE:   27 Mar 2006

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Scientists work on healthier bacon

SAN FRANCISCO - A microscopic worm may be the key to heart-friendly bacon.

Geneticists have mixed DNA from the roundworm C. elegans and pigs to
produce swine with significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids - the kind
believed to stave off heart disease.

Researchers hope they can improve the technique in pork and do the same
in chickens and cows. In the process, they also want to better understand
human disease.

''We all can use more omega-3 in our diet,'' said Dr. Jing Kang, the
Harvard Medical School researcher who modified the omega-3-making worm
gene so it turned on in the pigs.

Kang is one of 17 authors of the paper appearing Sunday in an online
edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The cloned, genetically engineered pigs are the latest advance in the
agricultural biotechnology field, which is struggling to move beyond
esoteric products such as bug-repelling corn and soy resistant to weed

Hoping to create healthier, cheaper and tastier products that consumers
crave, Monsanto Co. of St. Louis and its biotech farming competitors like
DuPont are developing omega-3-producing crops that yield healthier
cooking oils. Kang said 30 academic laboratories are now working with his
omega-3 gene, presumably pursuing similar projects.

''Consumers have responded pretty positively when asked their opinion of
food modified to improve food quality and food safety, just as long as
the taste isn't altered negatively,'' said Christine Bruhn, director of
the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis.

Earlier experiments have succeeded in manipulating animals' fat content
but most never made it out of the lab because of taste problems.

While boosting Omega-3s doesn't decrease the fat content in pigs, the
fatty acids are also important to brain development and may reduce the
risk of Alzheimer's disease and depression. The American Heart
Association recommends at least two weekly servings of fish, particularly
fatty fish like trout and salmon, which are naturally high in omega-3s.

People already eat genetically engineered soy beans in all manner of
processed food, but biotech companies run into what bioethicists call the
''yuck factor'' when they begin tinkering with animals.

The Food and Drug Administration has never approved food derived from
genetically engineered animals. Unlike crops, the FDA treats such animals
as medicine and requires extensive testing before approval.

''We understand that this research is in the very early stages,'' FDA
spokeswoman Rae Jones said.

The FDA is still considering Waltham, Mass.-based Aqua Bounty
Technologies' application to market a salmon genetically engineered to
grow faster, the only such request pending with the agency. Aqua Bounty
began its federal application process about nine years ago and there is
no indication when the FDA will rule.

In the meantime, the researchers of the latest project said they will use
their genetically engineered pigs to study human disease, especially
heart conditions.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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