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Welfare assessment in transgenic pigs expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP)


Since large animal transgenesis has been successfully attempted for the first time about 25 years ago, the technology has been applied in various lines of transgenic pigs. Nevertheless one of the concerns with the technology—animal welfare—has not been approached through systematic assessment and statements regarding the welfare of transgenic pigs have been based on anecdotal observations during early stages of transgenic programs. The main aim of the present study was therefore to perform an extensive welfare assessment comparing heterozygous transgenic animals expressing GFP with wildtype animals along various stages of post natal development. The protocol used covered reproductory performance and behaviour in GFP and wildtype sows and general health and development, social behaviour, exploratory behaviour and emotionality in GFP and wildtype littermates from birth until an age of roughly 4 months. The absence of significant differences between GFP and wildtype animals in the parameters observed suggests that the transgenic animals in question are unlikely to suffer from deleterious effects of transgene expression on their welfare and thus support existing anecdotal observations of pigs expressing GFP as healthy. Although the results are not surprising in the light of previous experience, they give a more solid fundament to the evaluation of GFP expression as being relatively non-invasive in pigs. The present study may furthermore serve as starting point for researchers aiming at a systematic characterization of welfare relevant effects in the line of transgenic pigs they are working with.

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This work was performed as part of and partly financed through the EC NEST029025 project INTEGRA, with additional support from The Roslin Institute Strategic Grant funding from the BBSRC. R Huber received a PhD grant (SFRH/BD/36682/2007) and Liliana Remuge a Bolsa de Iniciação Científica grant (C2008-LA770224-BII). by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT). Thanks to the Named Veterinary Surgeon and Pig Unit Manager at The Roslin Institute for valuable input, parameter choice and overall support; to farm staff for essential assistance during data collection; to Norrie Russell for photography and to Douglas Vasey for assistance in the Human Approach test. Statistical analysis was performed with help of Armando Teixeira Pinto from the Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto.

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Correspondence to C. Bruce A. Whitelaw or I. Anna S. Olsson.

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Huber, R.C., Remuge, L., Carlisle, A. et al. Welfare assessment in transgenic pigs expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP). Transgenic Res 21, 773–784 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-011-9571-1

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  • GFP
  • Transgenic pig
  • Welfare
  • Behaviour