The Van Trump Report

WSU is Serving Up Some Tasty Research

Researchers at Washington State University are conducting some tasty research that could bring big changes to the way we breed livestock. With permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), WSU researchers made sausage from gene-edited pigs and grilled them up for faculty and students at a recent barbeque. WSU says it is the first university to seek or receive approval from the FDA to produce gene-edited meat for human consumption.    

The researchers used CRISPR to edit the pigs’ DNA in a way that would enable researchers to use them to sire offspring with traits from another male pig. Known as “surrogate sires”, the male pis are first edited to be sterile. Later, they are implanted with stem cells from other male pigs that have the desired traits. The pigs then pass on those traits to the next generation.

Jon Oatley, a professor of molecular biosciences at WSU and the lead researcher on the project, says it is basically a selective breeding shortcut that can greatly expand the dissemination of valuable genetics in livestock. In typical breeding, a stud passes along specific genetic traits to its offspring. “The problem is only one male can be available for breeding purposes,” says Oatley.  But using surrogate sires, “you have 10 males all making the sperm carrying the elite DNA of that one male.”

Oatley said this type of bioengineering could help tackle world hunger, especially as the climate continues to change.  “The conditions that we’re asking food animals to thrive in, to be more resilient in, is much more difficult, whether it’s a reduction in the availability of water, or reduction in availability of feedstuffs, pasture land, grazing land, increasing heat, or increasing cold,” he said.

Researchers say surrogate sire technology can not only improve meat quality but is also more ethical than traditional breeding as it can prevent bad traits from getting passed along. This in turn can help “improve the life, the health, the well-being of animals that are part of agriculture.”

Oatley is seeking FDA approval for a line of surrogate sires to enter the food chain. He is currently working under an investigational authorization that is limited to just five pigs. The pigs were processed at the WSU “Meat Lab,” where it was inspected by the US Department of Agriculture. Meat scientist Blake Foraker then made the meat into sausage that is being served up at fundraisers for student members of the WSU Meat Judging team.

The surrogate sires’ offspring are not gene-edited but will still require FDA approval for inclusion in the food chain. Oatley points out that gaining approval for just the five surrogates was an expensive and long process. Even with some fees waived for the nonprofit university, the team spent $200,000 over the course of two years collecting the data required for authorization.

Only one other organization, a company by the name of Acceligen, has had a gene-edited animal receive an OK from the FDA to enter the food supply. In 2020, the FDA made a low-risk determination for products made from “Slick-Haired Cattle,” which are gene-edited to have coats that increase the animals’ resilience to higher temperatures.

Oatley undertook the investigational food use authorization process for the gene-edited pigs to demonstrate that food made from the animals is safe to eat and that it is possible for an academic institution to achieve this type of FDA authorization. The original intent in making the animals is to try to improve the way we feed people but as Oatley explains, “If we don’t go through that process, all of the research we’re doing is for naught because it will never make it out into the public.” (Sources: WSU, The Pig Site, Food Safety Magazine)

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