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eGenesis

When my dad had a heart valve replaced, the doctors gave him a choice: a mechanical valve, or one from a pig? In his case, the surgeon recommended metal over meat. Now, thanks to CRISPR engineering scientists have successfully created piglets free of certain viruses, and humans are now one step closer to receiving not just pig valves, but entire porcine organ transplants.

Why it matters: "In the U.S. alone, more than 116,000 people are waiting to receive a lifesaving organ transplant, while only 17,157 transplants have been performed this year," writes Emily Mullin at MIT Technology Review. For years, doctors and scientists have hoped organs grown in other animals could fill that gap, but so far they've been unsuccessful.

Why they did it: Pig organs are good candidates for human transplants because they're a similar size to humans and pigs are easy to farm, but until recently full organ transplants have been too dangerous: pigs have a virus, porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV), incorporated into their genome. Since pigs and humans can easily share diseases (think: the flu), PERV has been a barrier to transplants of more complex pig-grown body parts.

But there are still ethical barriers. Gina Kolata at the New York Times writes "the prospect also raises thorny questions about animal exploitation and welfare. Already an estimated 100 million pigs are killed in the United States each year for food." Religious groups, medical advocacy groups and animal rights groups have weighed in on various sides of the debate.

Right now, transplants come with a price: rejection. Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic notes that pig organs are currently incompatible with human ones. They require anti-rejection drugs. But eGenesis, the company that created the pigs, says they are actively identifying genes they could change to make the organs more compatible. Ultimately, they want a human to receive a pig transplant without any anti-rejection drugs.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 6 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.