ATHENS, Ga. - This little piggy went to the market. This little piggy got cloned.
Athens-based ProLinia Inc., the nation's only company concentrating solely on cloning animals for agriculture, received good news last week when a report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council found that cloned animals are safe to raise and eat.
And ProLinia scientists are hoping that, in the near future, their work will be translated into choice meat displayed in grocery stores across the nation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioned the report nearly two years ago to glean possible risks of raising and consuming cloned or genetically engineered animals or their offspring. The committee found that cloned animals do not pose a food safety threat, although it warned against the risks posed by organisms that have been genetically engineered.
The committee that wrote the report found that the greatest concern surrounding genetically engineered organisms - organisms created through splicing genes of one species with genes from another species - is the ability of certain genetically engineered organisms to escape and reproduce in the natural environment, thereby threatening the existence of nonaltered species.
But of cloned animals, the committee wrote: "The products of offspring of cloned animals are regarded as posing no food safety threat because they are the result of natural matings."
There is currently no food from cloned meat in U.S. grocery stores, according to Wen-delyn Jones Warren, a pharmacologist with the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. The FDA contacted companies known to be developing the animals to ask them not to introduce to the market the cloned animals, or their offspring, or their food products, until the FDA has considered all the scientific information.
"We hope to make a decision by the end of this calendar year or early next year regarding cloned animals," Dr. Warren said.
In preparation for FDA approval and in order to produce superior pigs and cows that will be able to supply the juiciest, highest-quality meat, ProLinia scientists do the following: they replace the nucleus of an egg with that of an adult cell, such as a skin cell. When protein is added to that egg and placed into a cow or a pig, the offspring is the exact genetic replica of the donor.
And, if the donor is a top-notch specimen, so will be the offspring and so will be the meat lining grocery store shelves in the future.
ProLinia Inc. is a private company funded by the state-run Georgia Research Alliance, a partnership of the state's research universities, the business community and the state government. Pro-Linia, in turn, sponsors research at the University of Georgia.