After almost eight years of genetic selection, scientists in Colorado have bred a new, tiny pig that they say will be useful in medical research.
The animal, called a micropig, weighs about as much as a beagle and is cleaner and less temperamental than its 800-pound farm cousins.
"It's closer to man in terms of metabolism" than most lab animals, said Linda Panepinto of the Colorado State University, who developed the micropig. "This could well be the laboratory animal of the future."
Panepinto started with Yucatan pigs, a breed already used in research that usually weighs 150 to 200 pounds. After their offspring reached adulthood at about 2 years of age, she bred the smallest members of the generation. Four generations later, the first of the micropigs, weighing 50 to 70 pounds, were born.
Unlike other lab animals, such as Guinea pigs, these little pigs will eat almost anything humans will eat, allowing scientists to study diabetes, blood cholesterol and other diet-related conditions. The pigs cost about $300 each, Panepinto said, conceding that they are no threat to the laboratory mouse as the most common of lab animals.
But the new pig breed has one other advantage. "They don't have any hair," Panepinto said. "This seems to reduce the odor."