Published on Nov. 28, 2019

Gene Editing Writes New Chapter for Industry

If you think castration is a touchy subject, imagine how the pig feels. Though male pigs are routinely castrated to prevent boar taint and improve meat quality, the practice raises issues around animal welfare. In response, Hypor is investigating with partners whether gene editing can be used to eliminate the need for castration and improve welfare on farm.

“Gene editing in pigs, and in any other species, involves the precise edit of a nucleotide base pair in the pig genome; the edit can be either a deletion or addition,” said Abe Huisman, Director – Research & Development for Hypor, which is part of Hendrix Genetics. “There are several methods and technologies out there to make an edit, but what they have in common is that they enable an exact edit at a pre-determined location of the genome.”

As is the case in many aspects of science, starting early is paramount to success in gene editing.

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Making a defined change in the DNA at a specific location requires access to early stage embryos, as the gene editing technology is applied in the embryo to ensure that the change is made in as many cells as possible. The objective is to create an animal that will pass on the altered DNA to its offspring.

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Johan van Arendonk
Chief Innovation & Technology Officer at Hendrix Genetics

As a company that strives to stay on the cutting edge of advances that benefit its clients, Hypor is fully committed to investigating the potential of this new technology.

“Hypor is involved in a gene editing project to end surgical castration in pigs,” said Dr. Huisman. “The project – called ‘Alliance to End Surgical Castration of Swine’ – harnesses precision breeding technology to create male piglets that are born naturally castrated and remain in a pre-pubertal state.”

Thus far, the project has successfully developed multiple litters of prototype piglets that are naturally castrated. While there is still much work to be done before these castration-free pigs could be available to the industry, the potential is intriguing.

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A number of questions need to be answered before going any further, such as the best practice for recovery of puberty and fertility, and the impact of the edit on the animal as a whole and on traits like feed efficiency and meat quality. Are the embryos sexed before they are edited? How do we know we are only editing males? When commercialized, the resulting product needs to improve the well-being of swine, while ensuring excellent meat quality. We are committed to making responsible use of this technology to support pork producers worldwide.

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Johan van Arendonk
Chief Innovation & Technology Officer at Hendrix Genetics

In keeping with Hypor’s commitment to Total System Profitability, removing the need for castration at the commercial level will also reduce the need for interventions on farm, thereby lowering labor costs for producers.

Though gene editing is not a “cure all”, it is another huge step forward in applying technology for the benefit of all.

“Gene editing or precision breeding is an extra tool in the geneticist’s tool box, especially for those traits which are difficult to improve using conventional selective breeding methods,” said Huisman. “The idea that we can use this technology to breed even more profitable, sustainable and self-reliant animals is very exciting.”

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