Renewable Matter # 08 / January-February

Micropigs from Beijing

by Federico Pedrocchi

More or less the size of Snoopy, they are a little bigger than a cat. They weigh around 15 kilograms, far less than the 100 kilograms of normal pigs. Nevertheless, they are still hogs. Pigs, not from Guinea, because they are made in Beijing, at the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).

It is a pet market creation and it is successful – they say – because – true – we all love pigs, regardless of their size. Kids too – those lucky enough to meet a piglet in the countryside, are mad about them. The project started with an alteration of the growth hormone of an Asian hog, the Bama pig, which is already a small-sized hog, although it weighs around 35 kilograms. By disabling the growth hormone receptors, as I said before, specimens weighing 15 kilograms have been obtained. These were made to mate with normal Bama sows. As expected, the resulting offspring were a mixture of large and small piglets. Then, only the small ones have sex. Mission accomplished. 

There has been some ethical as well as cultural criticism: why carry out genetic experiments for the sake of our Disney animal fantasies? Disney culture is hardly condemnable, but we should be able to separate those beautiful blue topaz cartoon elephants from those industrial projects where blue poison arrow frogs are made to mate with dwarf cow elephants, weighing only two tonnes (and if they...

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