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Pure pig organ donors?
Updated: 2005-09-18 09:59

Chinese scientists have bred the world's purest inbred line of pigs that they say may prove ideal organ donors for human beings.

For 21 successive generations, pigs born of sows that mated with their own sons or siblings were bred by a team of zoologists headed by professor Zeng Yangzhi.

The team is based at southwest China's Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming.

International geneticists define "inbred line" of mammals as those that have had at least 20 generations of full-sibling or parent-offspring inbreeding, all of them tracing back to the same pair of ancestors.

"The mini, inbred Banna (region) pigs are very likely to become the optimal organ donors to human beings," said Li Youping, a Sichuan University professor dedicated to research on animal-to-human organ transplants.

"In fact, scientists are already carrying out experiments to transplant genetically modified pig organs to humans," he said.

Once the transplant experiments turn out successful, the pigs will provide ideal organs to human patients,'' said professor Li.

Professor Zeng's research finding is still subject to an appraisal by the Ministry of Science and Technology in October. But the latest gene testing with state-of-the-art microsatellite devices suggests at least 98.6 percent homogeneity in the inbred line of pigs.

"This highly homogeneous pig species will provide a technological platform to tackle various diseases and improve human health," said Dr Liu Yinong, a renowned Chinese-American zoologist.

Pigs are ideal lab animals in biomedicine because they are similar to human beings in anatomy, physiology and metabolism.

Inbred lines of pigs, like precision equipment in physics and pure reagents in chemical reactions, provide highly sensitive reproductive lab materials for biomedicine and life sciences.

Over the past century scientists worldwide conducted 200 massive experiments to produce inbred lines of pigs, but all failed.

The inbreeding of mammals thus had been widely considered a "mission impossible," until professor Zeng's breakthrough.

Their success story started in 1980, when the team found in a mountain village in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, an ideal brood of piglets for inbreeding.

The homogeneous pigs' survival rate is nearly 80 percent. At least one new generation is born each year, and the family has expanded to nearly 900 members in 18 sub-lines.

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