Well, They Can’t Make ‘Em Fly Yet

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But they can make pigs glow in the dark. A fluorescent pig developed by Chinese Scientists has successfully passed the genetically modified genes that cause the fluorescence to its offspring. They now have second generation glowing bacon.

BEIJING – A cloned pig whose genes were altered to make it glow fluorescent green has passed on the trait to its young, a development that could lead to the future breeding of pigs for human transplant organs, a Chinese university reported.

Two of the 11 piglets glow fluorescent green from their snout, trotters, and tongue under ultraviolet light, according to Northeast Agricultural University, located in the city of Harbin.

Their mother was one of three pigs born with the trait in December 2006 after pig embryos were injected with fluorescent green protein.

"Continued development of this technology can be applied to … the production of special pigs for the production of human organs for transplant," Liu Zhonghua, a professor overseeing the breeding program, said in a news release posted Tuesday on the university's Web site.

I'm not sure I follow the logic here. While one has to admit that there are some people who would look better (or at least funnier) with a glowing pig grafted to them, that market seems limited. On the other hand, you wouldn't need a night light.

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11 Responses to Well, They Can’t Make ‘Em Fly Yet

  1. CJ says:

    I think they add the fluorescent green protein as a marker to the end of whichever DNA strip (?) they add to the genome to see if it’s incorporated and the “right protein” is eventually expressed. It’s just an easier way to distinguish which pigs, in this case, will have the right DNA (i.e. human DNA) for transplant. In the above research, for example, only 2 of the 11 piglets expressed the GFP. It’s easier to find which two with fluorescence rather than a DNA test on the 11. Multiply this by orders of magnitude once you have a real organ farm.

    It’s an old research idea (at least 15 years old).

    With respect to transpecies organ donation, the big issue some years ago was transferring viruses across species. I think they found some organisms that were pretty benign in pigs, but could potentially create new problems in humans.

    Lastly, just to be pedantic, the fluorescence has a specific excitation range. You don’t really expect to see glowing pigs, unless you change all your houselights to the right UV range.

  2. Mockin'bird says:

    Heck, I know that I want to glow.

  3. feeblemind says:

    off topic: over at the BBC, there is an article titled ‘South Asia hit by food shortages’. http://news.bbc.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7178876.stm

  4. Gaius says:

    Er, CJ, that was a joke.

  5. NortonPete says:

    One of the pitfalls of a blog which fosters the intellectualization of the mind is that a simple esoteric joke could lead to new scientific discoveries.

  6. CJ says:

    Heh. I guess it’s hard to get a joke when you’ve worked in the area yourself (not directly, but in the same lab, and shared the same excitement when isolated liver cells expressed the proteins). You tend to over-explain because, well, most laypeople really have no idea what GFP is all about. It was just a default thing. Won’t do it again. :)

  7. Uncle Pinky says:

    Iron Chef can not wait for this. I demand more research so that in mere months we can have the Chairman unveil the secret ingredient: Triboluminescent Bacon!!!!

    Alton Brown will be giggling like a schoolgirl.

  8. feeblemind says:

    Don’t say that CJ. Your first comment was a good one. I had seen reports of ‘glow in the dark’ animals before, but I passed them over without reading, thinking they were mere publicity stunts to gain funding or to illustrate a certain procedure. Using it as a genetic marker is brilliant. Never occurred to me. I do have some knowledge of genetics and can readily appreciate the need for an easy to read marker. Now the physiology has me intrigued. I might not understand the biochem involved, but I would like to know how it works. Please keep commenting what you think. Your comment was the most useful thing I learned today.

  9. Gaius says:

    Second that, CJ. It was a good comment. I just wasn’t sure that you saw that I was joking.

    Heck, your comment explained a good deal more than the media reports have. That’s the beauty of blogs versus the MSM.

  10. martian says:

    I third it, CJ. It’s always nice to get the straight dope from someone who is actually working in the field rather than some science writer who’s only science background is that he/she took the required science courses and high school and college.

  11. feeblemind says:

    Thanks Gaius, thanks martian for backing me up. I hope CJ decides to come back. The Crabitat will be poorer without him.

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