A couple of weeks ago, Charlestown, Mass.-based BioTransplant Inc. announced that it has bred a special kind of pig that might just hasten the day when we can have successful pig-to-human organ transplants. How did the company do it? Well, inbreeding, of course. Seems that if you want some really special, transplant-quality pigs, you’ve got to get your pig herd even more inbred than usual.
“What we are hoping to do...is build this inbred herd as a potentially safer source of cells, tissues, and organs for xenotransplants [animal-to-human transplants],” Elliot Lebowitz, president and CEO of BioTransplant, told Reuters.
Finally, it sounds like somebodyspecifically, somebody in charge of pig mating at BioTransplantcould have a worse job than the guy who preps the flapping, crapping chickens for the neck saw down at the poultry processing plant.
Just so you’ll know: They’re inbreeding the pigs so they come up with a herd that can’t pass on their nasty pig viruses to us humans. If a man got fitted with, say, a pig heart today, he’d also get exposed to the pig’s porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs for short, and I’m not making that up). Crossover viruses could be bad for the organ recipient and maybe even the whole human race.
“We have shown that it is possible to create pigs which will not have human infectivity from PERVs,” Lebowitz said.
If this robbing-pigs-for-parts scheme works out, we Americans are going to owe the pigs, big-time. I’ve heard it argued that we’d never have gotten this country settled if it weren’t for pigs. Back when our ancestors were heading west in wagon trains, pigs were the only sizable, edible animals that would cheerfully go along for the trip, eat just about anything, and make a bunch of new pigs all along the way.
On a personal note, most of what I know about anatomy, I learned from Mrs. Hutto’s advanced-biology pigs, back in high school. Each of us students had our own pre-born pickled piglet, which we took apart a piece at a time. I learned that I had quite the deft touch with a scalpel, and I could take apart a pig like a-ringing a bell. Whenever a fellow student needed to look at a cleanly removed pig part, he’d come over to my table. If I hadn’t already chosen a highly lucrative career in guitar playing, I might’ve made a dang fine surgeon.
Toward the end of the pig semester, when I was pretty much finished with my pig, I mischievously opened up the little guy’s scrotum while Mrs. Hutto was out on one of her smoke breaks. I don’t know what got into me, but I popped out my guy’s testicles and hurled them over at Peggy and Vickie, the girls at the next table. Next thing I knew, everybody with a boy pig was digging for ammo, and the room was alive with flying pig nuts. When Mrs. Hutto opened the door, she found us students guilty-quiet and the room strewn with odd globules. At first, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of the scene. It didn’t take her long, though, to check the pigs, notice their neatly butterflied scrota, and then turn to me.
“Pick ’em up,” she grumbled. “Every last one of ’em. And wipe down those tables too.” Then, as now, if a pig-nut fight breaks out, I’m sure to catch the blame.
Back to stripping the Massachusetts pigs for parts: I know, some of y’all are thinking, “I don’t want to be patched together with pig parts. If my organs go bad, just let me die.” Well, I say get back to me when a doctor is telling you your heart’s shot all to hell, but he’s got a young and supple pig heart right here in a Li’l Playmate cooler, and it’s yours for the asking. I bet you’ll take it.
Some of you might even be thinking it’s not fair to the pigs. A while back, there was quite an uproar over scientists using cats for experiments that might cure blindness. Understand, I enjoy a nice cat as much as anybody, and I just spent the cost of a pretty good used car just to fix my personal cat’s right hind foot. But if I knew a child who had lost his eyesight, and a doctor told me I could restore that child’s eyesight by sacrificing all the world’s kitties except for one mating pair, I’d just start rounding up cats. Judging from what I’ve seen, the world would be ass-deep in new cats in no time.
So, as you might suspect, I have no qualms about having whopping-big pig farms dedicated to breeding pigs that’ll make replacement hearts, livers, kidneys, and skin. A day may come when we don’t even need to grow the whole pigwe can just grow the individual parts in a jar, or a tank, ready to pluck and transplant. As long as we can still get our hands on the makings for a good plate of barbecue, I’m all in favor of it.
Visit Walter Jowers’ Web site at http://www.nashvillescene.com/~housesense, or e-mail him at email@example.com.