Could Genome Editing Eliminate Need for Surgical Castration of Swine?

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

Recombinetics/Acceligen and Hendrix Genetics have successfully used a genome editing method to create swine that remain in a pre-pubertal state, thus eliminating the need for surgical castration, according to a release from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). 

“The first litter of castration-free prototype piglets using commercially relevant genetics confirms the methodology is working,” FFAR said. 

In 2017, Recombinetics, Inc., was awarded a FFAR grant to end surgical swine castration. Since then, Recombinetics/Acceligen and Hendrix Genetics, pioneering companies in swine genetics, responsible farm animal breeding and precision breeding technologies, formed the “Alliance to End Surgical Castration of Swine.” They have developed an approach that prevents sexual maturation in swine without introducing any foreign material into the genes of pigs.   

“The birth of these castration-free prototype piglets using commercially relevant genetics is just another example of how Acceligen is working to deploy our breeding technologies to help producers better meet the demands of consumers and producers to improve food animal well-being,” said Tad Sonstegard, chief executive and scientific officer of Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division. “The technical expertise and support provided by our industry partners and FFAR gives our alliance the capability to meet these demands with the highest standards. Together we will bring the castration-free trait to market and provide solutions to benefit the pork industry.” 

The next step is to determine 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, comprised of some of the largest pig genetic companies in the world, possesses the capacity and capabilities needed to supply these permanently prepubescent pigs to pork producers worldwide, FFAR said. 

“This first litter of permanently prepubescent piglets is a huge success,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR executive director. “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.”

The European Union has banned the practice of swine castration, but challenges with the cost of implementation have delayed it.

“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.

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