Even with Omega-3s, Cloned Pigs Won’t Make Healthy Bacon

As a happy member of the Bacon of the Month Club and Polish since birth, I’m a big fan of pork. But today’s media frenzy over an article in Nature Biotechnology about some cloned pigs with meat rich in omega-3 fatty acids promises more than any pork lover can hope for: healthy bacon. We wrote a few months ago about transgenic pigs making medicine in their milk, but the latest  pigs — the two on the right in this beauty shot at three weeks old — are supposed to be healthier for humans to eat because of a roundworm gene added before birth.

According to the unfrenzied article by David Biello in Scientific American:

Yifan Dai of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues first transferred the roundworm gene–fat-1–to
pig fetal cells. Randy Prather of the University of Missouri and his
collaborators then cloned those cells and transferred them into 14 pig
mothers. Twelve pigs were subsequently born and six of them tested
positive for the gene and its ability to synthesize omega-3 fatty acids.

Seventeen authors are listed for the Nature Biotechnology article. It’s a great piece of science that will make it possible to study the effects of omega-3s in pig models of the human heart (and way way way down the road we might get some roundworm bits added to our own genes — maybe). But even with plenty of omega-3s, the new pigs’ bacon and other cured meats — if they were ever approved for human consumption — would still be rich in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium nitrites. "Less unhealthy" might be more accurate, but be that as it may, the press release has been posted, the AP story has been picked up, and the major media around the world are on the case.

Mustargen: A Bad Case for a Nasty Old Drug

Joyce Elkins of Georgetown, Texas saw her $77.50 cancer medication Mustargen jump to $548.01 within two weeks. Merck, the drug’s original manufacturer, sold the rights to Ovation Pharmaceuticals which promptly raised the wholesale price “roughly tenfold.”

The Coming Shortage of Dead People


Demography is destiny, and the destiny of the developed world is to have more old people. The two charts above (click to enlarge) from the U.S. Census Bureau report 65+ in the United States [PDF] show two snapshots of the U.S. population in 1940 and 2000. On the left, starting at the bottom, most young people live to adulthood and then start dying off evenly at each age until very few people are left alive at the top of the spear, ages 80 and over.

The last half-century’s advances in medicine automation and world peace make the age needle flatten out. As a proportion of the population, twice as many people live past 65 today, and five time as many live past 85. Folks who would have been dead otherwise now live on to spend their children’s inheritance, collect social security and demand free drugs from the government.

Slate’s William Saletan covered the impact of all this destiny in a weekend article "Bygone Era: Old Age is changing. So should Social Security." His opening line: "The bad news is, we’re living longer."  The solution: Work longer (like past 70), curb early retirements, and needs-test Social Security.

(The title of this item comes from last year’s Atlantic Monthly article "The Coming Death Shortage" by Charles C. Mann. [$$])

Enhancement Amok: Barry Bonds’ Choices

The notion that the patient knows what’s good for him gets kicked in the head with the chilling story of baseball’s Barry Bonds and his long-time affair with drugs to improve his game. A Sports Illustrated  excerpt from the new book Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and
Lance Williams (see video interview) describes the Bonds regimen and the coterie of semi-medical experts pushing him drugs:

In addition to growth hormone and testosterone, doping calendars showed
that Bonds used insulin along with steroids; the drug’s anabolic effect
was significant, especially when used in conjunction with growth
hormone. He also popped Mexican beans, fast-acting steroids thought to
clear the user’s system within a few days. The label of the container
read, "Andriol. Undecanoato de testosterone" — in English:
testosterone decanoate. Early in the 2001 season, the calendars
indicated Bonds tried trenbolone, a steroid created to improve the
muscle quality of beef cattle. Within the year it would be the chemical
foundation for a new formulation of the Clear, the undetectable steroid
Conte obtained from an Illinois chemist, Patrick Arnold.

The SI.com web package presents the issue from all angles, describing how athletes and their facilitators lied, cheated and broke the law while chasing record book glory, fan acclaim and multi-million dollar paychecks.