Milking it: Genomics is Taking the Guesswork out of Dairy ProductionMedia Release, October 9, 2014. A new research program, funded in part by Genome British Columbia, aims to help BC’s dairy farmers by taking the guesswork out of determining which young heifers will develop to be the best milk producers. Through a simple hair sample, a genomic-based test will demonstrate the genetic markers of desirable traits like volume, fat content and protein. This data will allow farmers to make informed breeding and selection management decisions that will result in a more productive herd and improved dairy profitability.
Genetic engineering could go beyond shrinking or eliminating horns in cattle. It could be the much-needed antidote to one of Africa’s greatest zoonotic diseases.
Roughly 22% of cattle in Africa die before three months of age. They, like 6% of their adult counterparts are lost to disease. For those that survive, many will never be good producers, carrying the burden of disease without relief, increasing their susceptibility to both ectoparasites and endoparasites.
Media Release, Aarhus University, October 3, 2014. The cattle genome has now been mapped to a hitherto unknown degree of detail, constituting a quantum leap for research into the history and genetics of cattle. By creating a global database an international consortium of scientists has increased the detailed knowledge of the variation in the cattle genome by several orders of magnitude. The first generation of the new data resource, which will be open access, forms an essential tool for scientists working with cattle genetics and livestock history. The results are published in an article in the scientific journal Nature Genetics.
Everything we do carries risk. The clothes we wear are synthetic. The food we eat is unnatural. Yet, we thrive.
Genetic engineering, first attempted in the late 20th century, is a process of altering specific genetic material to change heredity traits of a cell or organism. The resulting organism is deemed genetically modified (GM).
Government food safety agencies in many countries are hesitant to approve genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for human consumption. In some cases that hesitancy centers on scientific questions but sometimes reluctance hangs more on public fears. Now a group of scientists think that both concerns can be resolved with specific genetic editing instead of pursuing broader genetic modifications.
What’s the difference between the two genetic tamperings, you ask? It is the difference between a cow that doesn’t grow horns and a cow that produces human breast milk. Let’s take a closer look at both, shall we?
Genetic modification is a broad term referring to genetic alterations in general which also includes mixing genes from different species to lend new traits to an organism that did not previously exist in that organism. That end of the genetic modifications spectrum is called transgenetics.
As an example of this, watch the short video below on China’s effort to feed more starving infants by genetically modifying cows to produce human breast milk.
Starving infants, you see, tend to have starving mothers. Breast milk in starving mothers dries up as the mother’s body shuts down body functions in a desperate attempt to survive. Even so, sometimes the mother does not survive. Either way, the starving baby is on its own unless other humans intervene.
Some of the affected babies can survive on cow’s milk, but some cannot, and all do better when fed human breast milk. Further, there have been issues with synthetic baby formulas, particularly in China, some of which proved toxic. Hence China’s efforts to produce more human breast milk pretty much by any means necessary.
By contrast genetic editing primarily involves altering an animal by either turning off a gene, such as the one that signals horn growth, or adding genes from another breed in the same species to transfer a certain trait, such as hornlessness. To clarify using this same example, genetic editing either turns off the horn-making gene in the cow, or adds a gene from another breed of cow to make this cow also be hornless. Genes from another species are not introduced in this effort.