Though they may not be the first set of glow-in-the-dark critters born for the sake of science, the newly bioluminescent pigs of the South China Agriculture University aren't any less incredible — or for that matter, adorable. Wilbur, eat your heart out.
And as far as the pigs are concerned, looking good is pretty much their entire job. Just like the rave-ready rabbits that came before them, the pigs were injected with jellyfish DNA when they were tiny embryos for the sole purpose of seeing whether or not the glow factor would take. Because now that we've seen that both rabbit and pig embryos hold the potential for genetic manipulation, any future human application is looking far more likely.
According to Dr. Stefan Moisyadi, a veteran bioscientist with the Institute for Biogenesis Research:
It's just a marker to show that we can take a gene that was not originally present in the animal and now exists in it. The green is only a marker to show that it's working easily.
While the pigs themselves may not be benefitting in any practical way from their unique glow, the research still has the potential to be highly beneficial — at least for humans. Because we now know it's possible to manipulate biological development by introducing genes at an embryonic level, this could pave the way for using genetic engineering to create cheaper and more efficient medicines. Dr. Moisyadi explains:
[For] patients who suffer from hemophilia and they need the blood-clotting enzymes in their blood, we can make those enzymes a lot cheaper in animals rather than a factory that will cost millions of dollars to build.
That sort of practical application is still quite a ways off, though. It seems like we'll be sticking to glowing animals for the foreseeable future; the same team that created the glowing bunnies is set to announce their results with their work on fluorescent glowing sheep early in 2014. As for whether or not these genetically engineered pigs would mean black light bacon on our breakfast tables, let's hope for the pig's sake we never find out. [University of Hawai'i via Impact Lab]