Cloned pigs used for human transplants

Wow … while scouring the internet this week, I happened upon a mention of a “bioproducts” company called Solazyme. Word is that, at an intellectual property conference held last week in Chicago, Solazyme proudly displayed in the convention hall one of its new products: a pig that had been genetically modified to grow body parts to be used for transplantation into humans.

Apparently, Solazyme isn’t the first to venture into this territory. In 2002 National Geographic reported that competing teams of scientists had been cloning genetically-modified pigs, to use their organs for human transplantation:

“Pig organs are well suited for transplantation; they are approximately the same size as human organs and have similar plumbing, which makes reconnecting blood vessels much easier. Also, the size of pig litters tends to be large and pigs reproduce quickly, raising the prospect of a large supply of ‘spare’ organs.”

One hitch, however, is that “natural” pigs’ organs are generally rejected by humans, due to an idiosyncratic coating of sugar molecules. The fix: scientists simply created cloned piglets programmed without the sugar-producing gene. This was a significant scientific advance because the researchers were able to “knock out” a targeted gene at a specific location.

Though scientifically laudatory, this work by geneticists — and its subsequent commercialization and marketing by companies like Solazyme — promises to open up a proverbial can of (genetically-modified?) worms. Once fundamentalist Christians, FoxNews, and PETA latch onto this story, I imagine it will stir vigorous debate.

Perhaps that’s why, during a quick visit to Solazyme’s website, I found absolutely no mention of livestock, genetically-modified or otherwise. Maybe they’re planning to break it to us gently. I’ll keep tabs on this story. More later.

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3 responses to “Cloned pigs used for human transplants

  1. Leah Hardesty

    I would like to clarify to this blogger and the readers of this blog that Solazyme is NOT in the the business of genetic modification of animals for human transplants. As the blogger mentioned, he didn’t see any mention of this on Solazyme’s website because we do not engage in such activities. Solazyme is a renewable oil company, focused on converting algae to oil within a sustainable process for use in making biofuels, foods and cosmetics. We do NOT work with livestock. At the Chicago BIO convention, we were a part of the BIO pavilion to showcase our renewable oil production and our booth happened to be near a display of such animals, which were not associated with Solazyme in any way. We encourage people to view our website, http://www.solayzme.com, to learn about what our company really does.

  2. Pingback: Solazyme denies affiliation with cloned pigs « Dorado Magazine

  3. Pingback: Correction: BIO, not Solazyme, responsible for cloned pigs « Dorado Magazine

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