Researchers at the South China Agricultural University have overseen the birth of 10 transgenic pigs that glow bright green under a black light. This isn’t just because the concept of pigs who are totally ready to party is kind of awesome, but to someday help those who suffer from hemophilia and other disorders. The doctors detailed this procedure and submitted their paper to the journal Biology of Reproduction.
Hemophilia is a hereditary disorder in which blood has a decreased ability to coagulate and clot. There are two types of hemophilia, and about 1 in 5,000 males will be born with the disorder. Females are capable of getting it, though it is incredibly rare. Individuals with hemophilia have a hard time recovering from injury and can also spontaneously bleed internally in joints and in the head. They are also at an increased risk of developing heart and renal disease.
One treatment for hemophilia is to receive enzymes to help clot their blood via transfusion. While a facility could be set up to synthesize the enzymes, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to just make them inside of animals. Genetically modifying an animal model to crank out the much needed enzymes would boost production and provide life-saving treatments to those in need.
Why the green? The ability to glow comes from green fluorescent protein (GFP), which is very commonly used in genetic work. GFP is derived from bioluminescent jellyfish protein and is just used as a marker. It does not harm the pig at all, it just gives the researchers a very clear visual that the genetic modification worked and they reached their intended target. Piglets that have been modified to glow under a black light match their non-glowing counterparts in lifespan.
It will be several years before the advances here can actually be used to save human lives. However, these results are still significant as they show that genetic modification can happen at the embryonic level. Last summer, a lab in Turkey announced that they had created glow in the dark bunnies using a similar technique, and the same lab is expected to release their results on glow in the dark sheep early in 2014. All of these experiments are geared toward advancing our scope of genetic modification so that we might more easily treat inherited disorders and create new medications.
This video shows the piglets glowing bright green under a black light as well as glowing in the dark. The pigs do begin to squeal after the lights go out, but the researchers state that young pigs, just like young humans, can be afraid of the dark.