Researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute collaborated with leading global animal genetics company, Genus PLC, to produce pigs with specific DNA changes.
They used gene-editing techniques to remove a small section of the CD163 gene when producing a pig and focused on the section of the receptor that the virus would normally attach to, leaving the rest of the molecule intact.
Removing only a section of CD163 allowed the receptor to retain its ordinary function in the body and reduced the risk of side effects, the researchers said.
Following the experiment, the results showed that tests with the virus – Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) – found the pigs had not become infected and their health had not deteriorated following positive blood tests.
PRRS causes breathing problems and deaths in young animals and costs the pig industry around US$2.5 billion (£1.75bn) each year in lost revenue in the US and Europe alone. Vaccines have mostly failed to stop the spread of the virus among pigs.
The research, which was co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, has since been published in the Journal of Virology.
The University said the gene-editing would help reduce losses in the farming industry, while improving the health and welfare of the animals.
“These results are exciting, but it will still likely be several years before we’re eating bacon sandwiches from PRRS-resistant pigs,” said the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute professor Christine Tait-Burkard.
“First and foremost, we need broader public discussion on the acceptability of gene-edited meat entering our food chain, to help inform political leaders on how these techniques should be regulated.
“If these studies are successful and the public are accepting of this technology, we would then be looking to work with pig breeding companies to integrate these gene edits into commercial breeding stocks.”
Genetically-modified animals are currently banned from the food chain in Europe.