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Does This Pig That Survived 36 Days Under Rubble Have Special Genetics?

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"But the wonderful pig surprised us again."

This pig, which survived 36 days buried under earthquake debris eating charcoal and drinking rain water, has been called many things from hero pig to Zhu Jianqiang, or "Strong-Willed Pig".

He can now be called dad. Since the 2008 earthquake in China's Sichuan and parts of neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, Zhu Jianquiang suffered extreme trauma, but he was recently cloned and sired six genetically identical piglets.

China's Sunday Morning Post (via The Telegraph) has the story on the technique scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute's Shenzhen headquarters used:

Zhu was castrated before the earthquake and experienced serious trauma under the debris, qualities that should have disqualified the pig as a candidate for cloning. Worst of all, he was five years old - the human equivalent of 60.

"But the wonderful pig surprised us again," Du said.

. . .

The piglets will probably be paired off and end up in three different places - the institute, the Jianchuan Museum and the New Hope Group animal feed company, two of the project's sponsors from Sichuan.

Du said the pair to be kept at the institute would be closely monitored and possibly the subject of more experiments to help scientists understand, from a genetic point of view, what made Zhu Jianqiang so tough.

Besides their intrinsic scientific value, the piglets also demonstrated the feasibility of "handmade cloning", a technology developed in Denmark to make the process cheaper and easier, the researcher said.

According to New Scientist, handmade cloning involves the following:

[...] egg cells are split in half under a microscope using a very thin blade (see graphic). The halves quickly seal up. A dye is used to identify the halves containing the nucleus, which are then discarded, leaving only empty "cytoplasts". To create a cloned embryo, a cell from an adult animal is fused first with one cytoplast, then another, by briefly zapping them with an electric current.

Before the handmade cloning method, scientists used an expensive machine to grab and egg cell, suck out the nucleus and input a nucleus from another cell to be cloned. New Scientist describes the newer process of handmade cloning as less expensive and an easier method for technicians to lean.

Although the pig is hailed as a national hero, scientists said they don't really think there is anything special about his genetics. The Sunday Morning Post reported Dr Fang Shimin , a Beijing-based biologist and science critic, as saying the pig was a local celebrity used to advertise this new technology.

[H/T Gizmodo]

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