CRISPR: How genetic scissors make pigs immune

Published by: MRT

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CRISPR: How genetic scissors make pigs immune

When Covid-19 started to race around the world, many countries closed stores that weren’t selling anything essential and told their citizens to stay home – they thought that would be enough to stop the coronavirus. However, if we had paid more attention to the pigs, we might have known better. When it comes to fighting airborne viruses, says Bill Christianson, “I think we are fooling ourselves about our effectiveness.”

Christianson isn’t just an epidemiologist and a veterinarian. He also runs a company called the Pig Improvement Company in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The company, which primarily sells high-quality “elite breeding sows”, has set itself the goal of combating a particularly insidious viral disease in pigs with which the pig industry has been battling for over 30 years: Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).

The pathogen causes a disease with a noticeable symptom: blue ears. When it first appeared in the 1980s, it was simply called “Mysterious Pig Disease”. The virus affects the respiratory tract, but has far worse effects for breeders: As soon as a sow is infected with PRRS, she can have miscarriages or give birth to dead, shriveled piglets.

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