BEIJING – Scientists from Jilin University in northeast China have modified the genes of some pigs to make them resistant to swine flu, the official news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.
The scientists used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technique, known globally due to the controversy sparked last month by Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s announcement that he used the technology to create babies resistant to HIV infection.
In this study, pigs less than two months old were divided into two rooms, each with three genetically modified pigs and four normal ones, one of whom was infected with the swine flu virus.
Although the three gene-edited pigs became infected, their symptoms were far less severe and the blood virus count also much lower than that of their normal counterparts, who were killed by the infection.
The researchers also found that the resistance to the virus could be transmitted to first-generation offspring.
The disease has been controlled in North America, Australia and most of Europe, where there have only been sporadic outbreaks owing to extensive vaccination, but in the rest of the world the only way to check the spread of swine flu has been the culling of animals, which results in major financial losses for farmers.
Swine flu is highly contagious and can kill pigs in a few weeks.
The Chinese study makes no mention of African swine fever, a variant of the disease.
There has been an outbreak of African swine flu in China since August, which has led to the culling of tens of thousands of pigs.