Scientists used genetic engineering to create a new breed of pig that could result in that most elusive of dreams: low fat, healthy bacon. However, this miracle does come packed with ethical problems.
Is Low-Fat Bacon Worth the Trouble?
According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers from China were able to create the new pigs with the CRISPR Cas-9, a gene editing tool. The goal was pigs that had less fat on them but were able to survive better in the cold weather. This feature is especially useful during a piglet’s earliest days.
During the study, the new pigs were created by using CRISPR Cas-9 to add a uncoupling protein that allowed the animals to better generate body heat. According to the results, the piglets that received the enhancement presented an improved capability of keeping their body temperature within normal levels. Moreover, the lack of fat did not affect the overall energy expenditure of the piglets.
Researchers say that this could be a boon for the welfare of the animals themselves. It might also help reduce the economic losses from animals’ death or poor health. Furthermore, similar genetic alterations could be made to all kinds of other foods with the gene editing tool.
However, ethical concerns were raised by Jennifer Doudna, who is considered one of the pioneers of this technology. She is a Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Doudna says that while this research demonstrates how CRISPR can benefit society, it could also cause moral problems. That is why she is a strong advocate of only putting the tool to use when and if the general public agrees with the experiments. Therefore, this could help eliminate a big cluster of ethical dilemmas that come together with secret gene manipulation.
In the end, some are pointing to the need of asking ourselves, is low-fat bacon worth all the effort? For meat eaters that want to avoid clogging their arteries with every crispy piece of bacon they eat at breakfast, the answer might be “yes”. However, there are other voices that believe that genetic manipulation for the sake of a lighter BLT should not be encouraged.
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