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How New Zealand’s Pesky Pigs Turned Into a Cash Cow

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In the late 1990s, a London-based research team confirmed that, in a laboratory setting at least, PERVs could infect human cells.

The discovery, for a time, “killed xenotransplantation,” said Björn Petersen, a xenotransplantation researcher with the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, the German government’s animal-disease research center. “Pharmaceutical companies withdrew their money from the research.”

Around the world, the hunt was on for pigs that were as disease-free as possible.

In 1998, Diatranz partner Olga Garkavenko turned on her radio and got wind of Invercargill’s new arrivals. She decided to investigate.

The company obtained tissue samples from the quarantined pigs for analysis. The islands’ harsh conditions, it seemed, had been tough on disease.

“They remained isolated and therefore they remained free of a lot of common infections that you have in pigs,” said Tan. “The pigs that were weak were probably wiped out. Only the fittest survived.”

The pigs also have an unusually low number of retrovirus copies in their genome. Petersen noted that the population…

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