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Other labs are working on making pigs genetically more compatible with humans by transferring human genes into pigs in order to grow up organs that are highly compatible with humans. See my previous posts "Human Genes Put Into Pig Sperm"and "Genetically Engineering Pigs for Xenotransplantation" for some details. The promise of the genetic engineering approaches is that potentially fully grown organs could be transferred from pigs to humans. Such transfers of fully formed organs might require immunosuppressive drugs to make them compatible. Whereas the transfer of starter cells from early embryo proto-organs may provide greater immunocompatibility.
These researchers are pursuing the development of this technique in order to be able to transplant a large number of human genes into pigs. Their goal is to create pigs which would contain internal organs that would be sufficiently compatible both physiologically and immunologically to allow transplantation into humans. My guess is that this technique alone will not be sufficient to do the amount of genetic engineering that will be required to achieve this ambitious goal. It may be necessary to both remove and add genes in order to create pigs with all the desired biological qualities. Also, the process of adding the sheer number of required genes may end up causing harmful mutations in the sperm chromosomes. Still, its a great piece of research.There is another obvious purpose that this technique might eventually be used for: human progeny genetic engineering. Human sperm could be treated using the same technique in order to put desired genes into human progeny. Of course, the technique might require a much greater degree of refinement in order to prevent harmful mutations. One potential risk is the possibility that any gene transplanted into sperm chromosomes could get incorporated into the middle of an existing gene. That could cause harmful genetic defects in progeny that would manifest at birth or at a later time in life.Update: This story from CNN confirms that deletion and modification of existing genes are also necessary to make pigs suitable for xenotransplantation: "You can add a gene, but you cannot alter or remove a gene using this technique," said Prather. It is known that some other genes will have to be altered or removed in order to create animals for the xenotransplantation of organs, he said.By Randall Parker at 2002 October 21 06:55 PM Biotech Organ Replacement