Spider Goats and Mouse Pigs: Is it What’s for Dinner or a GMO Horror Story?

It may sound bizarre and repulsive to more than a few, but  Canadian scientists working to create hybridized animal DNA have already worked to develop goats that can make silk from their milk after splicing their genes with spiders.  Goats that are 1/70,000th spider have been successfully created.  But the next splice from what some have deemed a carnival of genetic horrors may be the splicing of mouse and pig DNA to create what is being commonly referred to as “Enviropigs.”  But would you eat a pig that had been spliced with mouse DNA?

Goats genetically spliced with spider genes might sound strange enough.  No these goats don’t have eight legs, and they may not have acquired the ability to crawl up walls, but they have been made in such a way that  proteins from their milk actually can be refined into a fiber similar to spider’s silk.  The fibers manufactured in this way are nowhere near as strong as spider webbing (which is stronger than steel) but further research into it may one day yield goats that can actually create silk for a number of purposes.  And if you can look past the fact that they have been spliced to become goat spider hybrids, this might actually seem like a good move.  But those wondering about the future of biodiversity and genetic engineering have come out and said the goats are only a small step in what will be a massive industry (complete with its own ecological disasters) if left unchecked.

And the next step may come in the form of the latest breakthrough, the Enviropigs.  Enviropigs were originally a genetically modified line of Yorkshire pigs that were spliced with mouse DNA to allow them to digest plant phosphorous more efficiently than they otherwise would be.  The result would be less food intake required and less phosphorous pollution in their manure.  By introducing the enzyme phytase into the pig’s salivary glands they are able to then digest the mixture of food and phytase which then mean it is digested more efficiently.  It not only reduces the pollution, but it means the cost of feeding pigs would be far less than normally it would be.  And this is the motivation some are pointing to for using this practice to create a breed of genetically engineered super pigs.  The pigs were developed at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

And while it may still be some time before we start seeing genetically modified pig/mouse hybrids in our food, the thought has left some people queasy.  And so it seems we have two alternatives.  As genetic engineering and splicing goes on we will have to either come to think of all genetic material as no more than building blocks (and therefore the products of that material would be no different than any other form of biomass) or there will have to be a specific system set up to make sure genetic tampering does not end up in the places we do not want.  Just because we are splicing a pig with bits of mouse DNA, are we eating that much of a mouse?  Or is it still a pig?  Science is unquestionably taking yet another turn toward the philosophical.