For generations, farmers have been focused on improving livestock for better yields per animal. They’ve also worked hard to ensure that more animals survive various environmental threats, from diseases to droughts. Their noble fight has always been against human starvation. But now some are looking to not only feed humans, but to improve human health too.
This is a remarkable and important shift in thinking: from producing simply safe-for-human-consumption food to proactively aiding and promoting human health.
Sure, farmers have always been concerned with producing safe food and that’s not going to change. But how do they produce more than that to the benefit of the human race?
An editorial in the journal Nature Genetics titled Marshaling the Variome suggests that a strong first step in that direction would be to share livestock and plant genomic knowledge with human genomic researchers for the expressed purpose of improving human health.
By extending human health studies to include animals, particularly livestock, and plant genomic data, researchers believe that the genetic answers to human diseases will be more quickly found than studying human genomes alone.
Why livestock genomic knowledge in particular? Because farmers have mastered many similar challenges in farm beasts by identifying and breeding the problems out. Back in the day, they did that by observing closely and managing breeding accordingly. Or, they learned from trial and error. Today, many farmers use sophisticated techniques in successfully breeding animals to overcome environmental obstacles and be resistant to diseases.
That is precisely the knowledge human genome researchers are trying desperately to discover and master. As Richard Cotton explains in the video below on the Human Variome Project, “finding the [genetic] fault in an inherited disease is like looking for a needle in a haystack unless you know where to look…” Comparison and other genomic studies with livestock genomes could be the fastest and best way to identify the problems in human DNA that cause inherited diseases so the genetic repairs can be made and the diseases cured.
That’s right, farmers and farming organizations, human medical researchers need your genetic data and your knowledge to save humans.
“The genome variants of crop plants and livestock directly influence human health more readily than the mutated genes found in rare families and the common variants found by human genomic epidemiology,” reads the editorial in Nature Genetics.
“Now that we have inclusive international organizations dedicated to turning genomics into educational and health tools, we can readily partner them—demonstration project by demonstration project—with crop and livestock breeders who also speak the common languages of genomics and societal development,” that editorial continues.
Who knew that farmers could one day use their hard-earned knowledge to cure humans of such debilitating inherited diseases as cystic fibrosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, autism, Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, and many others?
And yet that looks to be their next great task.
Somebody give the farmers capes; their efforts and accomplishments are certainly the stuff of super-heroes.
Turning livestock genetics towards curing human diseases in the most unexpected way