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How Bacon is Getting the Low-Fat Treatment

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Bacon, that sizzling strip of marbled fat and muscle, could be slimming down thanks to science. This week, researchers introduced an innovation that could change the way we breakfast. Meet the low-fat pig.

Using new genetic engineering techniques, a team of researchers at the Institute of Zoology at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Sciences have created 12 healthy pigs with 24 percent less body fat than your average porker. The results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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The impetus for the change? The introduction of a gene, UCP1, into the test pigs. UCP1, though found in most other animals, is not naturally occurring in a pig’s genetic structure. Scientists used a version of the gene found in mice to modify a series of pig embryos. The gene allows animals to better regulate their body temperature in colder environments by burning fat: hence, a swath of swine who lose weight to stay warm. The gene editing technique developed by the scientists is named CRISPR-Cas9, and while the name may be cheeky, it belies a remarkable technological advancement, one that will save farmers and manufacturers millions of dollars in heating costs as the animals won’t require as much warmth to survive.

As of now, the pigs are not available to taste in the U.S. and experts predict it could take a while: the FDA’s approval of genetically modified salmon took decades. What with the backlash against genetically modified foods, R. Michael Roberts, a professor at the University of Missouri, told NPR that he doubts the CRISPR pigs “will ever be imported into the USA.” Alas, I guess some scientific achievements are better observed from a distance. But how would these skinnier pigs even taste, I wonder? Fat is what gives meat its rich flavor; without it, where does my bacon stand? But for those who prefer their meats on the leaner side, lower-fat pigs could be the answer they've been looking for.

Do beckon the low-fat bacon, or think this is unecessary? Let us know where you stand in the comments.

Tags: bacon, breakfast, low fat, science