It was in June 2019 that the birth of a specific batch of gene-edited piglets was announced to the world. It was a significant step in the quest to achieve commercial production of male pigs that never reach adolescence, and therefore do not need castration to prevent boar taint.
This particular gene edit relates to stopping expression of a gene that triggers the release of hormones necessary for sexual maturation. The gene, called KISS1, is expressed in the pig’s pituitary gland during puberty, and triggers certain cells to mature and begin producing hormones, which propel puberty forward as the animal grows older.
The genetic basis for the hormones that relate to growth and maturation in humans has already been studied extensively, notes Tad Sonstegard, who leads the piglet research and is chief executive and scientific officer at Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division.
To achieve commercial production of male pigs that do not reach adolescence (and therefore do not have boar taint), male pigs obviously need to receive the gene edit from their parents. However, because the parent nucleus stock would also have this gene edit and therefore would stay preadolescent themselves, an effective and efficient way must be found to make both male and female parent stock fertile.
The strategy that will be used here involves supplying an analog of KISS1 to the pigs.