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Sunday, March 26, 2006
 

Or barding, perhaps.

Researchers report they have created pigs that produce omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to improve heart function and help reduce the risks for heart disease, representing the first cloned transgenic livestock in the world that can make the beneficial compound. The research could be a boost to both farmers and health-conscious consumers seeking an alternative and safer source of omega-3 fatty acids. Currently, the only way for humans to realize the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is by taking dietary supplements or by eating certain types of fish that may also contain high levels of mercury.
Well, no. Heavy metal fishes are not the only option for those seeking omega-3 fatty acids. Grass eating ruminants supply it too, and concentrates such as cheese made from their milk supply it in abundance.
To stimulate production of omega-3 fatty acids in pigs, a team led by Dr. Dai transferred a gene known as fat-1 to pig primary fetal fibroblasts, the cells that give rise to connective tissue. Dr. Prather's group then created the transgenic pigs from these cells using a method called nuclear transfer cloning. The transgenic pig tissues were then analyzed for omega-3 fatty acids in Dr. Kang's lab at MGH and by Drs. Dai and Evans at Pitt. The fat-1 gene is responsible for creating an enzyme that converts less desirable, but more abundant, omega-6 fatty acids in the animals to omega-3 fatty acids. The results could lead to a better understanding of cardiovascular function not only in pigs, but in humans as well.

"Pigs and humans have a similar physiology," said Dr. Prather, distinguished professor of reproductive biology in MU's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and a corresponding author with Dr. Dai. "We could use these animals as a model to see what happens to heart health if we increase the omega-3 levels in the body. It could allow us to see how that helps cardiovascular function. If these animals are put into the food chain, there could be other potential benefits. First, the pigs could have better cardiovascular function and therefore live longer, which would limit livestock loss for farmers. Second, they could be healthier animals for human consumption."

hmmm, convert omega-6 to omega-3. That would be a pretty good hack for the human genome too.

Update:

Study skew.

Diets rich in omega-6 fatty acids but poor in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids have been connected with heart, autoimmune, and neuropsychiatric disease, but two recent analyses have suggested that high levels of omega-3s may not always improve human health. A meta-analysis published last week in the British Medical Journal found no clear evidence that omega-3 fatty acids protect against cardiovascular disease or cancer. However, the authors acknowledged that their results were skewed by one large study that found no benefits of omega-3 fats. Without that study, their results fit with an earlier meta-analysis that showed that omega-3s can lower risk of death. Another recent review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no clear anti-cancer benefits from omega-3 fatty acids.

Whether fat-1 pigs could ever offer an alternative to oily fish for consumers is a "difficult question," Van Eenennaam said. "What is going to be potentially problematic is getting through the regulatory process and then, of course, if we were to go all the way, consumer acceptance."

Well, unless something really odd happens the risk of death is 100% for all of us. The issues are when and how, and whether we enjoy the ride.

Update

A new study shows some cancer benefits.

Two new studies by a University of Pittsburgh research team suggest that omega-3 fatty acids . . . significantly inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells. The studies . . . suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective therapy for both the treatment and prevention of human liver cancers.

posted by back40 | 3/26/2006 12:21:00 PM

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