Background: Swine is an important agricultural commodity and biomedical model. Manipulation of the pig genome provides opportunity to improve production efficiency, enhance disease resistance, and add value to swine products. Genetic engineering can also expand the utility of pigs for modeling human disease, developing clinical treatment methodologies, or donating tissues for xenotransplantation. Realizing the full potential of pig genetic engineering requires translation of the complete repertoire of genetic tools currently employed in smaller model organisms to practical use in pigs.
Results: Application of transposon and recombinase technologies for manipulation of the swine genome requires characterization of their activity in pig cells. We tested four transposon systems- Sleeping Beauty, Tol2, piggyBac, and Passport in cultured porcine cells. Transposons increased the efficiency of DNA integration up to 28-fold above background and provided for precise delivery of 1 to 15 transgenes per cell. Both Cre and Flp recombinase were functional in pig cells as measured by their ability to remove a positive-negative selection cassette from 16 independent clones and over 20 independent genomic locations. We also demonstrated a Cre-dependent genetic switch capable of eliminating an intervening positive-negative selection cassette and activating GFP expression from episomal and genome-resident transposons.
Conclusion: We have demonstrated for the first time that transposons and recombinases are capable of mobilizing DNA into and out of the porcine genome in a precise and efficient manner. This study provides the basis for developing transposon and recombinase based tools for genetic engineering of the swine genome.