Can we use genetics to make farm animals greener than nature intended? Scientists are certainly trying–just take a look at the Enviropig, a genetically engineered pig that produces feces and urine containing 65% less phosphorous than standard porkers. National Geographic reports that the pig was recently approved for Canadian production in controlled research settings. Next up: passing tests in the U.S and Canada for commercial use.
Enviropig’s creators didn’t tweak pig genes just for kicks. The pig could actually prevent algal blooms from forming in rivers, lakes, and deltas where phosphorous from animal excrement is floating around. Algal blooms suck oxygen from the water, creating dead zones where fish can’t survive–so genetically altered pigs can theoretically save sea life.
The Enviropig process is fairly simple. Pigs need phosphorous in their food for health reasons, but they lack the phytase enzyme to break down phosphorous found in industrial pig feed (i.e. corn and cereal grains like barley). The solution: giving pigs the genetic capacity to produce phytase.
So far, the genetic meddling has worked out just fine. The phytase enzyme has been passed down successfully in eight generations of Enviropigs with no change in gene structure. But the question remains: are we prepared to eat genetically modified animals? Most people are comfortable enough downing genetically altered fruits and vegetables. And long as the large-scale hog production industry exists, Enviropig may be the best option to prevent algal blooms. Like it or not, frankenpigs are on the way.