Chinese genomics firm backs off plan to sell gene-edited micropigs

They’re cute, they’re cuddly, they’re tiny, and did we say they’re cute already?  Micropigs- pint-sized pigs developed through gene editing – created quite stir some two years ago when BGI (originally Beijing Genomics Institute) announced it was selling the miniature Bama pigs to pet lovers for $1,400 each.

However, after completing a $251 million initial public offering recently, BGI said it is putting its micropig sale plans on hold.

“We have no plans to sell micropigs,” Yong Li, of BGI’s animal science program, said in an interview with the MIT Technology Review.

It’s still not clear why China’s largest genomics firm has backed off its original plan. However, negative public sentiment in China around genetically modified organism (GMO), as well as uncertainty over the government’s intentions to regulate the practice of genetically modifying animals may be among the reasons.

“We have no plans to sell micropigs,” Yong Li, a key member of BGI’s animal science program, told MIT Technology Review.

BGI scientists used TALENs (Transcription activator-like effector nucleases) to create the micropig.

TALENs are restriction enzymes that can be engineered to cut specific sequences of DNA. BGI used it to disable a gene for a growth-hormone in the pig embryo. The procedure resulted in pigs that weigh about only 30 pounds.

BGI started out in 1999 as a non-governmental independent research institute which was China’s representative in the Human Genome Project.

In 2002, the company sequences the rice genome. The following year, BGI decoded the SARS virus genome and created a kit for detecting the virus.

By 2011, BGI had 4,000 scientists and technicians. The company did the genome sequencing for the deadly 2011 Germany E. coli O104: H4 outbreak.

In 2013, BGI bought Complete Genomics of California, a major supplier of DNA sequencing technology, for $118 million.

While China has been among the leaders in creating gene-edited animals such disease dog models for use in biomedical research, plans for designer pets appear to have been placed on hold, according to the MIT Technology Review.

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