Two genetically altered piglets stand with a normal piglet (L) at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., on March 26, 2006. A Chinese firm is offering a different breed of gene-edited micro pigs for sale as pets. File Photo by University of Missouri/UPI | License Photo
SHENZHEN, China, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- A Chinese biotechnology firm said it plans to market its gene-edited micro pigs for $1,600 each, but some experts said they have concerns about the process.
The Shenzhen-based company, BGI, presented its pigs in late September at the Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit and revealed the swine, which grow to a maximum size of about 33 pounds, were created via gene editing -- disabling a copy of a growth hormone receptor in the animals to prevent their cells from receiving the signals to grow.
The pigs were created for use in stem cell research and other experiments, but the firm said it is selling the animals as pets to raise money.
"We plan to take orders now and see what the scale of the demand is," senior BGI official Yong Li told the journal Nature.
Some experts have questioned the safety of the process used to create the pigs.
"The idea is completely unacceptable," Dr. Penny Hawkins, head of the British RSPCA's research animals department, told the Observer. "In the past, pets have been bred by selecting animals, generation by generation, to produce a desired trait. Inducing a massive change in one go risks creating animals that suffer all sorts of horrific impairments."
Hawkins said pets bred using traditional selection methods suffer enough health issues.
"Pug dogs have been bred to have flat faces, but this makes it difficult for them to breath. They suffer from air hunger and many collapse. Similarly, Cavalier King Charles spaniels have been bred to have such small heads that their skulls are too small for their brains and they suffer considerable pain," Hawkins said. "We have to move away from the idea that we can pick our companion animals purely because of their cuteness and size. The idea of creating micro-pigs is a very big step in the wrong direction."
BMI has yet to announce plans to market the pigs outside of China, but importing the animals to the United States would require the approval of U.S. regulators, experts said.
Kenneth Bondioli, a professor of animal sciences at Louisiana State University, told the Los Angeles Times the gene-edited pigs would need to be studied to ensure healthy development and to make sure they would not harm the environment or other livestock if they were released into the wild or escaped their homes.
"If these and other questions are addressed, the fact that they are gene-edited is irrelevant," Bondioli said.