Researchers announced Sunday that they have created pigs that produce omega-3 fatty acids and could become a source of pork that's good for healthy hearts.

Experts suggest higher intake of omega-3s to ward off obesity and cardiac disease, and for optimum fetal development in pregnant women. At present, the only ways to increase omega-3s in one's diet is to take dietary supplements or consume fish, often feared to be high in mercury.

In the journal Nature Biotechnology, a team including Randall Prather of the University of Missouri-Columbia and his colleagues at the National Swine Resource and Research Center there, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and from Harvard Medical School reported success with a generation of cloned transgenic pigs with high levels of the desired omega-3s and lower levels of omega-6, the type of fatty acids believed to contribute to obesity and heart disease.

Media coverage from Reuters, The New York Times, National Public Radio and others was heavy yesterday, making much of the fact that the idea came from prior work that enabled mice to produce omega-3s.

Just as in the mice, researchers transferred a worm gene called fat-1 into pig cells in a laboratory. They used cloning technology to create embryonic cells that were implanted into the womb of a normal pig, following procedures already developed by Prather and his lab.

The humanized gene produced an enzyme that converted the less desirable omega-6 fatty acids that the pigs naturally produced into omega-3s, the researchers wrote in the journal.

A photo of three littermates -- two trangenic and one not -- is available here. They were born at MU.

SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology journal and media reports.