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Explained: What FDA nod for genetically modified pigs means

19th December, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first-of-its-kind intentional genomic alteration (IGA) in a line of domestic pigs referred to as GalSafe pigs.

  • These pigs may be used for food and human therapeutics.
  • This will be the first time that the regulator has approved an animal biotechnology product for both food and biomedical purposes.

What is intentional genomic alteration?

  • Intentional genomic alteration in animals means making specific changes to the genome of the organism using modern molecular technologies that are popularly referred to as “genome editing” or “genetic engineering”.
  • Such changes in the DNA sequence of an animal may be carried out for research purposes, to produce healthier meat for human consumption and to study disease resistance in animals among other reasons.
  • An IGA is inserted into an animal to change or alter its structure and function and the FDA makes sure that the IGA contained in the animal is safe for the animal and safe for anyone who consumes a product or food derived from the animal.

What does FDA’s recent approval mean?

  • The FDA made the announcement this week and allowed IGA in GalSafe pigs to eliminate a type of sugar found in mammals called alpha-gal.
  • This sugar is present on the surface of these pigs’ cells and when they are used for products such as medicines or food (the sugar is found in red meats such as beef, pork and lamb), the sugar makes some people with Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS) more susceptible to developing mild to severe allergic reactions.
  • GalSafe pigs may be used to make the blood-thinning drug heparin.