Pig to human transplants
The five cloned piglets – Noel, Angel, Star, Joy and Mary – have been genetically modified so humans will not reject their internal organs. This opens up the possibility of pig to human transplants, which may save the lives of many seriously ill people. A 75kg pig has the same-sized heart as a 75kg human, with the same pumping capacity. In theory it should be possible to farm pigs for their organs, much as we now farm them for bacon. Many human to human transplants are only possible with powerful drugs that suppress the immune system and prevent it from treating the new organ or tissue as a huge infection and rejecting it.
Doctors try to match donors to recipients to keep rejection to a minimum, but the problems are greater with pigs. If an unmodified pig heart were given to a human, the reaction would be so violent that the heart would turn black in 15 minutes and be virtually destroyed in 30. It will take until at least 2005 to figure out how to deal with adverse immune reactions and conduct trials with primates before human clinical trials can begin. There will also be a need to ensure that pig diseases do not cross to humans, and to establish whether a heart that will serve a pig for its 30-year life span will last longer in humans. Efforts are being made to increase the donation of human organs – the supply is still not high enough, though some argue that pig to human transplants would be unnecessary if the taking of healthy organs from the dead was mandatory.
There may be a degree of revulsion at killing an animal to save a human, but some could feel happier carrying the organ of a dead pig than a dead human. Pigs are already bred and killed for food, but some vegetarians and vegans might feel uneasy about making such use of an animal.
The New Zealand Kunekune Association – Dedicated to the preservation of Kunekune pigs in New Zealand and beyond
The name Kunekune means ‘fat and round’ in Maori, a rather apt description for this unusual looking pig. The Kunekune is smaller that other breeds of pigs in New Zealand, although a very overweight Kunekune can still be a somewhat large pig. The characteristic Kunekune shape is a short-legged, short-snouted pig with a high fat depth giving very rounded body contours. A Kunekune pig in ‘show’ condition looks very different in body shape to the equivalent commercial pig, and the shortened nose and head give the Kunekune an almost comical appearance. Not all Kunekunes have tassels, as although it is a dominant gene the population contains a proportion of pigs without tassels.
Occasionally piglets may be born with only one tassel, or sometimes they are not well attached and can be lost through injury. Breeders usually prefer to use only tasselled pigs for breeding, as breeding non-tasselled pigs increases the percentage of offspring without tassels. When a tasselled Kunekune is crossed with another breed, the offspring will be tasselled – so not all pigs with tassels are pure Kunekune. The coat colour and texture of the Kunekune can vary considerably. The coat texture can range from short silky hair giving a sleek appearance, to long coarse curls that give a more unkempt look.
The typical Kunekune nature is of a sociable placid pig that likes close human contact. Although boars can be aggressive to each other or if a sow is in season, Kunekunes are usually very trustworthy, easy to handle, and safe to have children around.
Decoding Nipah Virus
The virus is part of the family Paramyxoviridae and was first identified in 1999. Off late, around the beginning of 2018, there have been cases of the Nipah virus happening several times in India as well. Nipah virus is transferred to humans after direct contact with infected bats, pigs, and other NiV-affected individuals. Person-to-person transmission of the virus occurred in India and Bangladesh and had often been occurring ever since. It occurs commonly in the family as well as caregivers of those affected by the virus.
Nipah virus infection is directly associated with the encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain. A general health checkup can help in identifying the presence of the virus in a person’s system. A general health checkup might not bring up the signs, but other tests that can determine whether the Nipah virus is in the body include real-time polymerase chain reactions from both nasal and throat swabs, urine, cerebrospinal fluid and blood tests undertaken in the early stages of the disease. If the case is fatal, immunohistochemistry done on tissues collected during the autopsy period is another way to confirm the presence of the virus. A preventive health care checkup could help identify the virus in the early stages of its presence.
The virus can be prevented by ensuring there is no exposure to sick pigs as well as bats in some of the endemic areas. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to understand bat ecology as well as the Nipah virus.