An End to Surgical Castration Being Developed

A technology that could revolutionize pork production is being pursued through an alliance of two companies.

Recombinetics, a pioneer in gene editing solutions for animal agriculture and human health, and DNA Genetics, a swine genetics supplier, announced this week an alliance to end surgical castrations by developing precision breeding technology that results in male piglets born naturally castrated, the companies announced in a news release. The breeding technology focuses on swine health and well-being while ensuring good meat quality.

“This partnership will help evaluate, develop and commercialize the castration-free swine trait with the goal to get the technology into the hands of pork producers globally,” the companies said.

Castration is routinely used on male piglets to avoid “boar taint,” an unpleasant odor and unsavory taste that affects the pork’s marketability to consumers. Currently, castrations are performed surgically, impacting animal well-being and adding health risks to animals from potential side effects of these management interventions.

Another method of castration being used is with Improvest, which works like a vaccine, immunologically. It works with the pig’s own immune system to create a temporary effect similar to physical castration to reduce boar taint.

On the other hand, chemical castration involves injecting a chemical into the testicles to alter the pH of the testicular environment and cause the testicle to atrophy. Formaldehyde, lactic acid, acetic acid, silver salt and zinc salt have been evaluated for chemical castration use in various species. While these substances are easy to administer and inexpensive, chemical castration is a painful procedure and is not a suitable alternative.

The National Pork Board classifies chemical castration as an unacceptable alternative to physical castration.

Complete Elimination with New Technology
Scientists at Recombinetics developed a precision breeding method resulting in male piglets that remain in a pre-pubertal state, the release said.

“This approach will eliminate the need for castration, either surgical or medicinal. To determine the commercial viability of pigs bred to be castration-free, alliance researchers will evaluate findings to investigate feed efficiency, meat quality and best practices for recovery of puberty and fertility.”

Research is being led by principal investigator Tad Sonstegard, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division.

“We create technology-driven solutions that improve animal health and well-being,” Recombinetics’ president and CEO, Tammy Lee Stanoch said in the release. “By partnering with DNA Genetics, we have the combined expertise to bring the castration-free trait to market and provide solutions that can benefit the entire pork industry.”

“Precision breeding includes a range of technologies that will have a strong impact on genetic improvement programs,” said Tom Rathje, chief technical officer at DNA Genetics in the release. “We are pleased to be a part of furthering these technologies and increasing our understanding of precision breeding and its application in a breeding system. This specific project is an innovative use of precision breeding techniques that have the potential of improving both animal health and efficiency. We are pleased to be a part of making this technology available to the pork industry.”

Last December, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $500,000 grant to Recombinetics to use new techniques to breed swine that will eliminate the need for surgical castration. Additional funding is provided by The Open Philanthropy Project. This partnership supports producers’ ability to adapt to a changing animal production landscape.

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