Just what the world needs: less lard! Hmm, no, I think I'll stick with my locally raised, pastured pigs.
Here's something that may sound like a contradiction in terms: low-fat pigs.
But that's exactly what Chinese scientists have created using new genetic engineering techniques.
In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report that they have created 12 healthy pigs with about 24 percent less body fat than normal pigs.
The scientists created low-fat pigs in the hopes of providing pig farmers with animals that would be less expensive to raise and would suffer less in cold weather.
"This is a big issue for the pig industry," says Jianguo Zhao of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who led the research. "It's pretty exciting."
The genetically modified low-fat piglets
The animals have less body fat because they have a gene that allows them to regulate their body temperatures better by burning fat. That could save farmers millions of dollars in heating and feeding costs, as well as prevent millions of piglets from suffering and dying in cold weather.
"They could maintain their body temperature much better, which means that they could survive better in the cold weather," Zhao said in an interview.
Other researchers call the advance significant.
"This is a paper that is technologically quite important," says R. Michael Roberts, a professor in the department of animal sciences at the University of Missouri, who edited the paper for the scientific journal. "It demonstrates a way that you can improve the welfare of animals at the same as also improving the product from those animals — the meat."