Food Science

How Bacon is Getting the Low-Fat Treatment

October 25, 2017

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.

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.

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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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Alexander Fu
    Alexander Fu
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    Lynley Jones
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Alexander F. October 25, 2017
Growing up in the west eating very lean pork, I had no idea how delicious pork could be until after moving to China, where they have some very nice, fatty pigs. I'm sorry to hear that they might be following the same misguided path with their pork as we once did in the west :(
AntoniaJames October 25, 2017
Low fat also means less flavor. No thanks! Want less fat? Eat less of it, but of course, eat "the good stuff" when you do. ;o)
Lynley J. October 25, 2017
This is ridiculous and unnecessary! Pigs are what they are and humans have been eating them for thousands of years. Science tells us that we should be much more concerned with whether the pigs we eat are grazing in pastures vs. raised in factories than with how much fat they have. This is a solution in search of a problem, which, in a complicated food ecosystem, will likely only lead to more problems.

If some people don't want to eat pork, or have some unique health circumstance that makes it unwise for them to do so, then they should just not eat it! Let's stop mucking around in a delicate evolutionary system we don't fully understand.