Tunghai University (THU) professor Cheng Teng-kuei, is working to create wood-eating, environmentally friendly pigs, by splicing genes from cellulose-digesting microbes in termite guts into pigs. The news was reported recently in Taiwan Today.
Cheng, who is known as Taiwan’s pioneer in cattle cloning, said his team at THU (based in Taichung) has isolated five termite gut bacteria enzymes. The genes from these termites were spliced into rats, and the first litters of transgenic rats carrying the enzymes were born last month. This is the first step in the team’s effort to create transgenic pigs.
Previously, Cheng created the world’s first grass-eating swine by splicing genes from cow-stomach microbes into pigs. This time, Cheng said his inspiration came from a tree trunk on campus that had been hollowed by termites.
Cheng’s cross-departmental team found that termites have a microbe in their gut that produces an enzyme able to break down cellulose, the main component of wood. According to Cheng, once the gene is successfully spliced into pigs, the genetically modified animals will be able to consume wood waste instead of corn. This could produce cleaner, less odorous excrement in addition to lowering production costs.
These second-generation environmentally friendly hogs are just one project of THU’s Global Research and Education on Environment and Society program, launched last year.