Who doesn’t love things that are fun-sized? While most pet owners would gladly keep their furry friends baby sized forever, a group of scientists in China has taken things a step further. Geneticists from leading genomics research institute BGI in Shenzhen, China have begun selling genetically engineered micro-pigs as pets starting at US$1600.
By deactivating a growth hormone receptor or GHR gene, scientists have effectively stunted the growth of Bama pigs. Normally mature pigs weigh up to 100 pounds, but mature micro-pigs grow to only about 30 pounds, or the size of an average dog. By introducing an enzyme called transcription activator-like effector nucleases, or TALENs, to the cloning process, scientists were able to disable one of two growth hormone genes that cause Bama pigs to mature to their full size.
Of course, cloning Bama fetuses comes with adverse health effects and shortened lifespan, as evidenced by other cloned mammals, such as Dolly the sheep. However, by breeding the genetically engineered male micro-pigs with normal female pigs, half of the offspring are born as micro-pigs without the adverse health effects of being born as clones.
Having more similar genetic and physiological makeup to humans than the typical lab rat, but often rejected for lab work for their large size, micro-pigs were originally intended to serve as subjects for human disease in genetic research. However, a fringe pet market for unusually small animals has given their products new purpose. As of now, BGI states that profit is currently their main objective with their new micro-pigs.