Meet the Genetically Engineered Pig With Earth-Friendly Poop

By Aline Reynolds | April 2, 2010 2:05 pm

Enviropig-ModelCanada has approved for limited production a genetically engineered, environmentally friendly pig.

The “Enviropig” has been genetically modified in such a manner that its urine and feces contain almost 65 percent less phosphorus than usual. That could be good news for lakes, rivers, and ocean deltas, where phosphorous from animal waste can play a role in causing algal blooms. These outbursts of algae rapidly deplete the water’s oxygen, creating vast dead zones for fish and other aquatic life [National Geographic].

All living creatures need phosphorus, as the element plays an important role in many cellular and organ functions. Domesticated pigs get their daily dose from corn or cereal grains, but not without a struggle. These foods contain a type of phosphorus that is indigestible to the pigs, so farmers also feed their pigs an enzyme called phytase to allow the animals to break down and digest the phosphorus. But ingested phytase isn’t as effective at breaking down phosphorus as phytase created inside the pig would be, so a fair amount of the element gets flushed out in pig waste. That waste, in turn, can make its way into the water supply [National Geographic].

To fix this problem, the scientists tinkered with the swine’s genes to make the pig produce its own phytase in its salivary glands. When the cereal grains are consumed, they mix with the phytase in the saliva, and throughout the pig’s digestive tract the enzyme works to break down the phosphorous in the food. With more phosphorus retained within the body, the amount excreted in waste is reduced by almost 65 percent, say researchers.

The researchers who created the Enviropig say it’s not just eco-friendly, but it also cut farmers’ feed-supplement costs. If the pigs eventually become common, they could also help U.S. farmers comply with “zero discharge” rules that forbid pork producers from releasing nitrogen or phosphorus runoff.

The Enviropigs will be raised only in controlled research settings in Canada for now, and experts say transgenic pork won’t be landing on your plate anytime soon; the new biotech pig will face years of safety trials to see if it should be approved for commercial production and consumption in the United States and Canada. No transgenic animal has been approved for consumption as of yet. But in 2008 the FDA announced approval of the first human health product made from a genetically engineered animal. The goat-derived anticoagulant, ATryn, is used for the prevention of blood clots in patients with a rare disease-causing protein deficiency [National Geographic].

Related Content:
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80beats: Your Quarter-Pounder Just Might Have Come From a Cloned Cow (Indirectly)
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DISCOVER: “Frankenfoods” That Could Feed the World (photo gallery)

Image: Enviropig/University of Guelph

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Technology
  • DC

    Frankenstein’s pig.
    Like Einstein said…”There is nothing more infinite…than human stupidity….”
    There are other ways to solve problems than to corrupt the fabric of life.
    “Smart domestication” is where scientists select organisms for desired traits with knowledge of the genes responsible for the traits. This is similar to domestication that has served humans well for thousands of years, except that there is less trial and error. It is analogous to “nudging” the genome instead of slicing and dicing it.

  • Karl Rosenqvist

    But the whole problem is that pigs aren’t made for eating just corn, soy or barley. If we give normal pig-type foods to normal-type pigs they are environmental too. IDIOTS!!!
    Perhaps we should start by engineering new genetic engineers and set them to work on new pigfarmers.

  • John

    I’m not against genetic engineering per se, but I agree with Karl. If the problem is caused by a diet unnatural to pigs, far too heavy laden with corn and cereal grains, then perhaps the diet should be changed before we start changing the pig.

    There’s an industry in Iowa that wouldn’t be too thrilled with that, though.

    King Corn:

  • John

    Here’s the King Corn website for anyone interested:

  • nick

    Why not just feed them proper nutrition? Wouldn’t that be easier?

  • Uncle B

    So sorrowfully misled! Bio-gas manures to compressible storable consumer gas – heat and fuel to mankind, then use the remaining product as top soil improving fertilizer! Free, non-patentable process commonly used the world over! Huge factory farms are energy sources, fertilizer sources, in our mist – being wasted! Polluting rivers, lakes streams and land before removing the super-fuel, consumer gas, and compressing it for human uses – Dairy farmer in U.S. sells “cow -shit – power” to grid and runs farm for free! Humanure, especially rich in U.S.A. can do the same – run huge gasworks, be burned as consumer gas, be converted by large engines to electric power – not a new idea, a proven often used concept! One man’s effluent, another, wiser man’s resource flow! Where is rabid vulture capitalism when we need it? Shiite is money, fuel and fertilizer, for cheap! San Anatonio Texas does it! Check it out on the net!

  • ジョバン

    people just can’t avoid the ever-present “yuck” factor…

  • rabidmob

    As to those who mentioned feeding the pig a better diet, the likely problem is that it is more expensive.

  • David T

    If the pigs are retaining phosphorus and not poopin’ it — does that mean the meat has more phosphorus? OH BOY! Ribs that will barbecue themselves!

  • BADKarma

    I wonder if the Canadian government mistakenly believes this pig will in any way pacify the Veganist Jihad, whose sole goal, (stated quite clearly, if you learn how to read PC double-speak, and see through a smokescreen of “animal welfare” propaganda), is the total elimination, worldwide, of ALL animal husbandry; followed shortly thereafter with pricing all remaining food out of reach of the majority of the human population for purposes of politically-motivated Eugenics and mass genocide.

  • Cody

    While I am a vegan and do object to animal “welfare” or “humane” animal exploitation (that’s like “humane” slavery of humans– it doesn’t exist — the usage itself is inhumane, the treatment is largely irrelevant), but his last bit about “politically-motivated eugenics and mass genocide,” etc. is just rabble. Maybe he’s a teabagger and is paranoid about everything different from himself and so he makes up ridiculous conspiracy theories, I don’t know.

    Here’s another quotation for DC: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” -Albert Einstein

    Also, if you want to read about pig s**t:

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • Shane

    I have an idea: let’s address problems brought on by animal abuse, warfare on the environment, and an insatiable hunger for cheap meat – by designing a genetically modified pig that we can treat the same, in the same mistreated environment, while feeding it genetically modified food, while we eat in the same unhealthy, self-destructive way.

    That’s science, it must be smart!

  • Jo Diggs

    Awww, hes so cute.


  • Vannion

    feeding them a better diet is cheaper then genetically engineering them? Might as well engineer them to poop crude oil pellets then

  • Ben

    As long as the bacon tastes the same I don’t care how it gets on my plate

  • David

    Score one for science! This is a great step towards the eventual goal of doing away with the pig altogether and just genetically engineering the meat. Is meat still cruel to animals if no animals are involved in its production? I think not…

  • David Johnson

    “Why not just feed them proper nutrition? Wouldn’t that be easier?”

    If you don’t mind pork at $20-$30 a pound, yes…

  • Goober

    Don’t hate me cuz I’m tasty. My farts might be bad, but I smell good in the pan!

  • Goober


  • Octaane

    I love how 80% of you are self-loving anti-BioG’ers. How expensive do you think it would be to feed a pig “normal, pig-type foods” (i.e. slop)? Moreover, phosphorus is still going to be produced in a copious amount; that’s just the biochemistry of a pig’s metabolic breakdown. I forget who made the comment about “nudging” a the pig’s genome to produce more phytase VIA natural selection, but it doesn’t exactly work that easily. Natural selection works on the previous generation. If there is no need for the pig to produce this for survival, then any mutants that come about (keep in mind beneficial mutation rate is extremely low) are just phased in with the rest of the population, and the trait is most likely lost. Even if you -would- get a slightly higher phytase increase, it would be negligible until it combo’s onto itself. Natural selection only acts if the organism needs it to survive, and sexual selection only acts if the organism becomes somehow more appealing to the opposite sex b/c of its trait.
    If you’re not majoring in Genetic Engineering or have some knowledge in the amount of work it requires, then you can’t really appreciate breakthroughs that come about.

  • Nikki

    Eat the enviropig and get Cancer

  • Liyah Jayy

    This is very interseting

  • Hespia Klarerin

    I think this is a great idea.

    Those pigs are raised for human consumption, they are not natural at all to begin with.
    Think about how many genetic trait selection those pigs went though to be the right species for human consumption. the wild pig look nothing like agricultural pigs.
    Naturally, we are responsible for the environmental damage created by the mass amount of pig poop.
    sure, feeding them the pig diet will make them less environmentally effective, but that’s costly. We have great technology on our side called genetic engineering.
    Genetic engineering fastens up the agricultural trait-selection process that would take yearsss otherwise. In fact, all the food we eat nowadays are mutants. (for LONG time)
    Certainly, this kind of research is only at its beginning, but it has great potential.

  • stick on tree

    im hungry

  • show plates

    this is crazy what we as humans are doing to grow animals and vegs for human food , it is causing us health problems.

  • show plates

    this is crazy what we as humans are doing to grow animals and vegs for human food , it is causing us health problems.

  • Greg Pruden

    After I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any means you may take away me from that service? Thanks!


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