In the years before COVID, the most visible testament to how far Beijing was willing to push its scientists past the bounds of what the international community deemed “acceptable” was its gene-editing prowess. A few years ago, one Chinese scientist shocked the world, and even wound up imprisoned in his home country for making the CCP look bad, when he unveiled the world’s first gene-edited human babies. The twin girls had their genetic material altered in utero to make them immune to their father’s HIV infection.
We’re surprised that doesn’t come up more during discussions about Beijing’s rogue scientific endeavors – discussions that have become all the more common since COVID first burst out of Wuhan two years ago.
Nobody knows where those gene-edited girls are now (the Chinese government won’t say), but Beijing has apparently found a new project for its best gene scientists: the country’s largest research institution has reportedly developed mutant “humanoid pigs” that are susceptible to the human strain of the coronavirus using the world’s premier gene editing technology.
Once developed, the pigs will be used as test subjects as scientists test new remedies being developed to fight COVID. Though on this the Global Times, one of Beijing’s many state-controlled newspapers, didn’t go into much detail.
A study published in August showed the researchers at the Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained how the scientists used CRISPR, a gene-editing tool, to remove the genetic protections that allow the pigs to reduce the human virus. The project clearly has the full backing of the CCP: the CAS research institution is the world’s largest organization of its kind and a formal arm of the Chinese government.
Why pigs? The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, actually has a pretty cogent explanation.
The existing cell lines and animal models on guinea pigs and some primates used for simulation of COVID-19 infection cannot capture the key characteristics of human physiology and therefore limit the accuracy of test on efficacy of vaccines and drugs.
We suppose they’re as good a host as any farm animal. They might even kill two birds with one stone if the unused pigs can then be eaten during the next outbreak of Pig Ebola.