© Igor Zarembo

Researchers in the US have modified dozens of pig genes to enable their organs to be transplanted into humans. The viruses embedded in the pig genome, which have been feared to cause diseases in human recipients, have now reportedly been disabled.

In what is believed to be a big step forward in cross-species transplantation, a common pig virus that could invade human cells and cause disease has been dealt with. Called porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV), the molecules responsible for the disease were identified in pigs over a decade ago, creating a problem for using pigs – whose organs including hearts, kidneys and livers are close in size to human body parts – for transplants.

Over 60 PERVs, which are part of all pig genomes and cannot be treated, have been deactivated in pig embryos by a team led by geneticist George Church of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Nature journal reported this week. Calling such gene-edition a record – the number of genes edited in pigs is ten times more than for any other animal – the international weekly journal of science said the research “may have produced a suitable non-human organ donor.”

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