Genome Alberta

Livestock News & Views

September 30, 2014 11:36 AM

The New Debate: Gene Editing vs Genetic Modification

Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

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.

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September 30, 2014 11:36 AM
The New Debate: Gene Editing vs Genetic Modification
Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

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.

September 25, 2014 6:50 AM
Musings on Agricultural Biotechnology and a New Gig
Filed Under: Debra Murphy | 0 Comments

Whether you’re choosing a breakfast cereal or sowing the seeds that go into it, you are touched by science, and specifically biotechnology. Besides being responsible for synthetic insulin and chymosin (or rennin, used in cheese production), since the early 1990s, biotechnology has contributed largely — and controversially — to agriculture.

“Biotechnology,” “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs) and “genetic engineering” have evolved from terms to contentious issues. They inspire heated debates, which challenge suppliers, consumers and public policy. This month alone, mainstream media has covered and questioned a scientific study on GMOs and one company’s decision to source GMO and non-GMO commodities alike. And, as individuals touched by this science, this information, these debates, it is our duty to remain informed.

August 28, 2014 2:51 PM
Cheeseburgers and Cowspiracy: putting livestock and climate change in perspective
Filed Under: Pam Baker | 0 Comments

Why, yes, this is a blog dedicated to livestock genetics and as odd as it may sound, this story does indeed involve some livestock gene manipulation. But let’s put first things first here at the intersection of climate change and farm gasses.

For awhile now, different environmental groups have pointed to the act of eating a single cheeseburger as the greatest environmental threat ever. Not just the deadliest environment killer on your plate but in the entire scope of all the things human beings can do to bring about an environmental apocalypse. Apparently we are all going to die from an onslaught of burger joints.

“The documentary film ‘Cowspiracy,’ released this week in select cities, builds on the growing cultural notion that the single greatest environmental threat to the planet is the hamburger you had for lunch the other day,” writes Jayson Lusk in his post on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal.

Duh duh dun cue the disaster movie music and watch this official trailer of the movie if you dare. I bet you’ll never eat meat or trust your neighboring farmer ever again. 

 “As director Kip Andersen recently told the Source magazine: ‘A lot of us are waking up and realizing we can choose to either support all life on this planet or kill all life on this planet, simply by virtue of what we eat day in and day out. One way to eat takes life, while another spares as many lives (plant, animal and otherwise) as possible,’" Lusk continued.

But wait, the alarm is sounded even louder and this time directed not at the lowly burger but at cattle ranchers. 


August 22, 2014 3:41 PM
Preliminary results promising in beef genomics project

Alberta researchers are starting to get some promising results back from a five year study aiming to improve molecular breeding values and show how genomics can be used by beef producers to make better breeding decisions.

University of Alberta researchers split the composite herd at the Roy Berg Kinsella Research Ranch into control and experimental groups. Cows in the control group were bred to control bulls, while the other cows were bred to feed efficient bulls. The Kinsella herd is heavily influenced by Angus sires, but still includes traces of Hereford, Brown Swiss, Simmental, and other breeds.

August 14, 2014 5:03 PM
Saving heritage breeds preserves valuable traits and culture

Early in June, I booked into a bed and breakfast near Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan to work on a new writing project. The journey there ended up being a little more dramatic than I wanted – my Chevy Tracker lost a wheel on the highway near Kyle, Sask, and I ended up borrowing a car from some kind strangers for about 10 days – but the destination ended up being well worth the trouble.

Jim Saville, the proprietor of the bed and breakfast, had several different heritage breeds on the place. Maybe it’s the ag journalist or farm girl in me, but those critters made my stay even more enjoyable.  The Irish Kerry and Canadienne dairy cattle stood out in particular, for me.