Genetically modified cattle may provide future answers to today’s challenges

Since the first domestication of cattle, farmers have improved their herds through phenotypic selection.

But recent advances in the understanding of bovine genomics and in the field of gene editing have the potential to usher in a whole new era of genetic improvements in cattle herds faster and more accurately than ever before.

Complementary technology

Tad Sonstegard, CEO of Acceligen, explained gene editing technology. He spoke at Cattlemen’s College 2022 in Houston.

Genome editing is a breeding method that uses CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to introduce traits – or disable traits – into an animal’s genome. It is already used in the plant world.

The beauty of using gene editing, Sonstegard explains, is that it can target the parts of the gene that have a specific trait and make changes within a generation, rather than waiting for generations of slow changes through to phenotypic selection. This technology can be used for cloning and creating IVF embryos.

But there is a long way from proof of concept to commercialization. Acceligen has been working on it since 2013 and has successfully run 10 different events for six traits across four geographies, he said.

In cattle, Acceligen hopes to be the first to commercialize five traits:

  1. Interrogates. Humans have been breeding for the polled trait in cattle for thousands of years. This animal welfare trait is found on a common allele, not on a gene. Acceligen has found a way to introduce this natural allele into the genome of horned cattle, working in the same way that crossbreeding with Angus creates naturally polled calves.
  2. Milk Production QTl Detection Solutions. Over 70% of the world’s beef and dairy cattle are produced by smallholder farmers in the poorest countries. Using gene editing, it is possible to produce more efficient cattle that improve milk production and have a reduced environmental impact.
  3. Heavy bodybuilding. This genetically modified trait eliminates the myostatin gene that occurs naturally in the Belgian Blue cattle breed. resulting in a calf with heavier musculature.
  4. Coat color. The Angus breed has been around for hundreds of years and has the best beef marketing program in the country. Working with Trans Ova, Acceligen was able to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to make two changes to the genome and turn a black-skinned calf into a red-skinned calf. And make that red gene dominant, so that when that calf is eventually mated to a black-skinned animal, the result is a red calf.
  5. Smooth coat. There are huge opportunities for genetically modified cattle with smooth coats in the South American market of the future. As livestock feeding operations expand in Brazil, a Nelore-Angus cross animal has become more sought after. However, Angus cattle, with their longer hair, are not suited to the heat of Brazil. Using gene editing, Acceligen can create black-skinned Angus bulls with smooth coats that will tolerate heat and be useful in F1 breeding programs with the bos indicus Nelore cattle.
  6. Sonstegard says the benefits of gene editing in cattle mean that single-generation genetic improvement can be achieved, with little or no disruption to the current breeding program. It offers new opportunities for disease resistance and access to emerging markets around the world.

This tool can be used to reduce the carbon footprint of cattle, while improving product quality and transforming animal welfare. It also ensures the biosecurity of production lines.

Regulatory issues

Chase DeCoite, director of animal health and food safety policy for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says the regulatory situation for genetically modified cattle is a bit unclear.

“We are calling for a similar regulatory framework that already exists for genetically modified crops,” DeCoite said.

NCBA policy states that members of the organization believe that the regulatory authority for genetically modified beef cattle rests with the USDA and not the Food and Drug Administration, since the USDA already regulates the editing of genes in plants under the Plant Protection Act. The FDA has chosen to treat genetically modified livestock the same as if a new animal health drug were introduced, he added.

On January 19, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, which agreed that the USDA would provide oversight of farm animals that have been genetically modified or developed for human food consumption, from pre-market to post-market reviews. food safety monitoring. Meanwhile, the FDA will continue to review intentionally genetically modified animals for biopharmaceuticals and non-inherited genetic alterations. With the transfer of the Trump administration to the Biden administration, the movement on this has stalled.

But NCBA members are continuing to work on the topic because the beef industry believes there’s huge potential, DeCoite said. Potential for livestock production that produces less methane and requires less water; and producing more meat with fewer resources that is more resistant to potential disease and therefore requires fewer antimicrobials – the list of game changers goes on.

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