Of 13 handcrafted pigs and the governor’s race

Last week, the University of Georgia unveiled a set of 13 handcrafted pigs.

The freshly shampooed creatures represented a 20-year breakthrough in campus research. “A seminal discovery in animal and human biology,” declared Scott Angle, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

One of 13 customized pigs unveiled in Athens last week. Photo/University of Georgia

One of 13 customized pigs unveiled in Athens last week. Photo/University of Georgia

Two UGA researchers, Steve Stice and Franklin West, have discovered how to implant and activate pluripotent stem cells — capable of morphing into any kind of organ — into pig embryos.

Forget the jargon. In a world of possibilities, the immediate bottom line is this: Custom-made animals without the complications of cloning, whose organs could be developed for human use — without rejection.

“We could have herds and herds of pigs from which we would collect beta islet cells for diabetic patients, hearts for transplants — kidneys, livers and such,” said West, a 28-year-old product of Augusta, Ga., public schools and Morehouse College.

Diabetes therapy is the lowest-hanging fruit. The UGA researchers are already collaborating on a project with Emory University.

Patent rights are likely to be worth a deal of money to a cash-starved University of Georgia. Chances of quick adaptation and use within the private sector are excellent.

But this is not a science column.

The political point is that UGA lobbyists and Stice himself, the father of stem cell research in Georgia, have spent the last several years in the state Capitol, protecting this research from Republican legislation that would have — depending on the bill — crippled or prohibited it.

Human embryonic stem cells, the primary target of many GOP lawmakers, were not used in the UGA project. But the scientists did use human DNA to reprogram the adult porcine stem cells into infinitely more malleable embryonic stem cells.

The human trigger means that the 13 pigs are “chimera” — an unfortunate name that has its roots in Greek mythology and a fearsome monster thought to be part lion, part snake, and part goat.

Which is why Stice doesn’t use the term. His pigs, the researcher said, “are what we call transgenic.”

No matter what term is used, the concept of marrying human and animal cells is likely to give many politicians heartburn. And yet those same politicians will solemnly declare that biotechnology — of the right kind — is the key to high-paying jobs and economic development in Georgia.

For Stice, West, and 50 or so other experts in stem cell research — as counted by the non-profit Georgia Research Alliance — the question is whether the next governor will support, stymie or turn a blind eye to their work.

“They don’t have to be here. They can work almost anywhere in the world that they want to,” said Angle, the dean of UGA’s agricultural college. “And it’s important that we have a friendly environment for people like them.”

Obtaining an answer is more difficult than you might think.

Last month, Georgia Bio — a consortium of public research and business interests — invited Democratic and Republican candidates for governor to a pair of forums before an assembly of the state’s scientists, academics and CEOs of bioresearch firms.

Two dates were scheduled at Kennesaw State University: May 20 for Democrats, and May 27 for Republicans. The stampede of candidates has been less than thunderous.

On the Democratic side, only three have agreed to attend: Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who last week declared biotech to be an essential part of his jobs program; former National Guard commander David Poythress; and Ray City Mayor Carl Camon.

Response from the GOP side has been even weaker. Only two candidates have agreed to appear — former congressman Nathan Deal of Gainesville, and Otis Putnam, a 35-year-old Wal-Mart worker from Macon.

To be fair, statewide candidates are jealous of their time. And Georgia is a large place. The Democratic campaign of Roy Barnes, for instance, said the former governor loves science but is committed to a downstate event for teachers.

The Republican campaign of Karen Handel, who opposes embryonic stem cell research, said the former secretary of state will be in far-away Greensboro, Ga., that day.

But Charlie Craig, president of Georgia Bio, says it’s essential for the state’s top technical brains to know what the men and woman who would be governor think about education, health care reform, economic development and its connection to the life sciences.

In particular, how do we create more people like Steve Stice and Franklin West? Who, presumably, can’t be mass-produced like their pigs.

“Candidates who are not participating are telling us that these aren’t priorities for them,” Craig said.

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37 comments Add your comment


May 12th, 2010
6:36 pm

Where there is no vision the people perish.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

May 12th, 2010
6:38 pm

UGA is just one more reason why Georgia is the best place in the world…especially Atlanta.

Good going, Dawgs.

carl sears

May 12th, 2010
6:46 pm

To Will Jones – Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

Got news for you……. Atlanta sucks and the sooner it gets annexed by New Yawk or Callyfornia, the better Georgia will and can be for the rest of us.


May 12th, 2010
6:56 pm

For what it’s worth, Nancy Reagan supports stem cell research.


May 12th, 2010
7:06 pm

Georgia is in a race with Arizona and Alabama to become the nation’s laughing stock backwater retro Third World outpost. Good luck getting any high quality business to locate here if we continue to revel in our stupidity. Our politicians, for the most part, are not worth two dead flies.
I’m voting for David Poythress. Good on him for supporting science and rationality.


May 12th, 2010
7:11 pm

General Poythress has been all over the state and seems to know the right places to be.
He is heading for a run-off with Roy Barnes.

The General

May 12th, 2010
8:10 pm

Unfortunately, I fear one of the ignoramuses running for governor will be elected, the religious right will be paid off and this sort of research will be left to neglect.

Mike Klein

May 12th, 2010
8:23 pm

Science will move ahead and make dramatic discoveries whether that happens in Georgia or somewhere else. The work of these scientists is absolutely essential. Excellent article.


May 12th, 2010
8:32 pm

I’m in support of stem cell research, but not the interaction of human and animal cells. That sounds a little weird to me from the start.


May 12th, 2010
9:17 pm

You would think these politicos would be attracted to the pork.


May 12th, 2010
9:18 pm

Enter your comments here

Rural Education

May 12th, 2010
9:25 pm

Perhaps Handle doesn’t understand the science. I don’t think you have to know much to get the GED.


May 12th, 2010
10:49 pm

If you are what you eat I am at least 30% pork already. If there is one thing we get right in Georgia it’s barbeque


May 12th, 2010
10:53 pm

How cruel. Poor pigs.


May 12th, 2010
11:15 pm

Rural, You are so right. She evidently doesn’t think much of education because she certainly didn’t care enough to get an education for herself. I could NEVER vote for anyone who didn’t care enough to earn at least one college degree. As far as progressive thinking in science, of course she couldn’t understand the importance of research.

Republican Legislator

May 12th, 2010
11:41 pm

Why are we wasting state money to pay this professor’s salary? Aren’t there fish ponds that need building. Quick, someone fire this guy and shut down his department so we can afford to give more tax cuts to big businesses.

The Cynical White Boy

May 13th, 2010
12:25 am

So then, are there some fancy futuristic piggies headed for the Annual “Pig Pull” that marks the beginning of the 2011 Legislative Session?

Wonder how they will taste?

I wouldn’t know of course. I am merely a taxpayer, not a lobbyist or employee of lobbyists (aka “lawmakers”).


May 13th, 2010
7:14 am

all of you seminar blogers (union members and government employees) have fun. Come November you are going to get a rude awakening.

Got Stomach

May 13th, 2010
8:37 am

West – a product of Morehouse College- an HBCU. Gee, not a peep from the bigots. I forgot. They only come out when bad news is reported about anything remotley related to an HBCU.

John Oh

May 13th, 2010
8:48 am

Science isn’t jobs guys. Great work by UGA, but the next step is in the pharma industry, and no business is going to locate in Georgia or the USA for that matter unless it can make money or at least cover its costs. Democrats have already regulated pharma to the point its hard to make money, and Obamacare will kill it. These guys will stay at UGA because they don’t want to learn to speak Chinese or Hindi.

You Asked

May 13th, 2010
9:05 am

This is great news from one of our higher learning institutions. Imagine a world where we can tell a small sick child they will grow up healthy and strong because we can grow a new kidney for them.

…and no Shelley, I don’t feel sorry for the pig any more than I feel sorry for the cow that provided the leather for your designer shoes.


May 13th, 2010
9:18 am

Vote for General David Poythress for Governor.

He is by far and away the most qualified candidate.


May 13th, 2010
9:27 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.


May 13th, 2010
9:54 am

A person never went broke underestimating the ignorance of Georgia politicians and the folks that vote them into office.


May 13th, 2010
10:34 am

You don’t have to be anti-science to oppose embryonic stem cell research. Adult Stem Cells are yielding greater results over 73 treatments for diseases including juvenile diabetes, mulitple sclerosis, and non-hodgkins lymphoma.

My father and my grandfather are both scientists; however, I do not see why destroying human life warrants potentially helping another human.

iPSc’s are also going to be yielding results in the future because you will be able to take adult stem cells and convert them to embryonic.

While I am not a big fan of Karen Handel, to say that she is uneducated because she opposes embryonic stem cell research is not only an ad hominem attack, but it also shows your lack of education.

I am for scientific advancements and funding scientific research that saves lives, yet I am strongly opposed to any research that destroys human life.

And yes you can be both.

[...] Of 13 hand-crafted pigs and the governor’s race | Political Insider. [...]

Ethel Sugarman

May 13th, 2010
10:39 am


Please get a dictionary and look up “ad hominem.” You’re embarrassing.

about time

May 13th, 2010
11:01 am

LoveWisdom- using embryonic stem cells for research does not destroy “life”. almost all of those cells were left overs from fertility clinics and would be destroyed anyway.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 13th, 2010
11:17 am

No, lack of education is spouting off the word “ad hominem attack” because you heard it on Fox News or read it in Female Skeletor’s book and not knowing any other proper debate terms….especially since the very sources of news from which Libertarian/Republican monsters draw their information use ACTUAL Ad Hominem attacks all the time.

People who are all obsessed about saving a couple of cells and calling them ‘babies’ but who oppose any kind of actual help for children saying ‘charity will take care of it’ are the most monstrous hypocrites of them all. It is typical Republican/Libertarian monster thinking. And since the morons/independents are willing to believe enough of their lies to swing the election even remotely close to the Republican party, just goes to show how stupid the people of this state and this nation truly are.


May 13th, 2010
11:33 am

“Human embryonic stem cells, the primary target of many GOP lawmakers, were not used in the UGA project.” For those worried about stem-cell research, please read the above quoted sentence. They didn’t use embryos, fetuses, or anything else other than some human DNA. I don’t see why growing pigs for medical reasons is any different than growing them for food.

no use for a name

May 13th, 2010
11:39 am

Another point that needs to be mentioned in an otherwise great article is that of transgenic or chimera regulation. There are many ethicists and doctors who are concerned that merging animal and human dna could ultimately make humans more prone to picking up animal diseases and conditions.
Also, many corporations and researchers are looking at animal embryos fused with human DNA simply because the anti-abortion folks seem okay with that, and the researchers don’t have as much to fear politicaly.
It’s a Brave New World, in many respects, and we need Brave New Candidates to confront these challenges.

David Staples

May 13th, 2010
11:39 am

@Aaron Burr V Mexico – Please don’t so closely associate Libertarians with Republicans. Libertarians are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Republicans are socially conservative and… well… some of them say they’re fiscally conservative anyways… haven’t really seen much evidence of that lately…

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 13th, 2010
11:46 am

Dear Mr. Staples,

Three years ago, I used to believe that. However I now know the difference. On paper, and in theory, Libertarians are substantially different than Republicans. Libertarians, if they behaved based on the ideals they espoused, would be economically conservative and socially liberal.

This is simply not the case.

Libertarian institutions, specifically and foremost, the CATO institute, swap Republican/FOX News talking points on a regular basis. Libertarians share Big Business Propoganda against Anthrogenic Global Warming, routinely attacking ‘commie liberals’ like Al Gore for championing this issue, believing a bunch of hacked emails rather than 90% of all scientists and people much smarter than they are.

Libertarians did not, have not and are not protesting the Iraq War, nor are they advocating the prosecution of George W. Bush and his entire cabinet who have violated more freedoms than any cabinet in the history of the nation.

Libertarians are very often sympathetic to or a part of Tea Party organizations which have been ursurped and coopted as voices for the Republican party, spreading outright lies about Health Care reform whilst offering only extremely anemic alternatives.

Most importantly of all, Libertarians often talk about ‘the Welfare state’ and ‘the dangers of Socialism’ without often understanding what these mean. Even the smarter people who actually DO understand what these mean ascribe to a highly fantasized version of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers relying on archaic 1790 definitions of what words like ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ mean, expecting modern society to be bound by them when modern society was in no way shape or form consulted on, or voted upon, said 200 year old document.

I'm pretty sure

May 13th, 2010
11:52 am

Karen Handel is uneducated. I mean, does she even have a highschool diploma?


May 13th, 2010
11:53 am

Harry Browne was the last decent libertarian.

Aaron Burr V. Mexico

May 13th, 2010
2:36 pm

Does someone who granduates from a college in this state have an education that isn’t comparable to a totally indoctrinated meaningless blatherskite like North Korea or Cuba? Would it matter?

Many Republican politicians nominally have college degrees yet fail to comprehend basic science or the processes thereof, making up facts out of thin air about the Intertubes and believing Corporate Approved and Generated nonsense, which they then spoon feed to the illiterate masses.

“Uneducated” when it comes to Moderates, Independents, Libertarians and Republicans is a relative term and even many liberals are incredibly stupid…they simply blindly follow slightly less stupid leaders.

North Georgia Voter

May 14th, 2010
12:07 pm

Saying Karen Handel is uneducated isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact.