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University of Missouri

Pig Power

Mizzou researchers breed virus-resistant swine.

piglet

Genetics research and breeding helped produce pigs that aren’t susceptible to the deadly PRRS virus. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Mizzou geneticist Randy Prather and his team have bred pigs resistant to the deadly Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus.

Pigs that contract PRRS have difficulty reproducing and gaining weight, and many die from the disease. The malady also hurts the swine industry, costing more than $660 million a year. So far, no vaccine has been effective in treating it.

To infect a pig, PRRS needs help from a protein called CD163. Pigs that don’t produce the protein are not susceptible to the virus.

To find a solution, Prather, a Curators Professor of Reproductive Physiology in Mizzou’s Division of Animal Sciences, teamed up with Bob Rowland, a virologist and professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University. Working with a team of researchers, the scientists found a way to “edit” the gene that makes the CD163 protein, thereby thwarting PRRS’s effects. Pigs bred to carry the altered gene are invulnerable to PRRS.

The team’s study has been published in Nature Biotechnology, and the University of Missouri has an exclusive licensing deal for commercialization of the virus-resistant pigs.