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Chinese scientists create pluripotent stem cells from pigs

Scientists have managed to induce cells from pigs to transform into pluripotent stem cells – cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of developing into any type of cell in the body. It is the first time in the world that this has been achieved using somatic cells (cells that are not sperm or egg cells) from any animal with hooves (known as ungulates).

Dr Xiao, who heads the stem cell lab at the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology (Shanghai, China), and colleagues succeeded in generating induced pluripotent stem cells by using transcription factors to reprogramme cells taken from a pig's ear and bone marrow. After the cocktail of reprogramming factors had been introduced into the cells via a virus, the cells changed and developed in the laboratory into colonies of embryonic-like stem cells. Further tests confirmed that they were, in fact, stem cells capable of differentiating into the cell types that make up the three layers in an embryo – endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm – a quality that all embryonic stem cells have. The information gained from successfully inducing pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) means that it will be much easier for researchers to go on to develop embryonic stem cells (ES cells) that originate from pig or other ungulate embryos.

Dr Xiao said: "Pig pluripotent stem cells would be useful in a number of ways. To combat swine flu, for instance, we could make a precise, gene-modified pig to improve the animal's resistance to the disease. We would do this by first, finding a gene that has anti-swine flu activity, or inhibits the proliferation of the swine flu virus; second, we can introduce this gene to the pig via pluripotent stem cells – a process known as gene 'knock-in'. Alternatively, because the swine flu virus needs to bind with a receptor on the cell membrane of the pig to enter the cells and proliferate, we could knock out this receptor in the pig via gene targeting in the pig induced pluripotent stem cell. If the receptor is missing, the virus will not infect the pig."

by S. C.
09 june 2009, Technical Area > Science News