Crop Biotech Update

Gene-Editing Turns Pigs into Organ Donors

October 14, 2015

Scientists and doctors have dreamed of creating a steady supply of human organs for transplantation by growing them in pigs. However, concerns about rejection by the human immune system and infection by viruses in the pig genome have stalled research.

Now, through the modification of more than 60 genes in pig embryos, geneticist George Church of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues believe they have produced a non-human organ donor.

Researchers used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology to inactivate porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) in pig embryos. These viruses are in all pigs' genomes and cannot be treated. They are also feared to be able to cause disease in human transplant recipients.

Church's group also modified more than 20 genes in a separate set of embryos, including genes that encode proteins that are known to trigger a human immune response. Church declined to reveal the exact genes modified since the work is not yet published.

For more on the study, read the article on Nature.