Washington D.C. [USA], Feb. 19 : To boost sustainability of livestock production, a study finds that gene editing - one of the newest and most promising tools of biotechnology - enables animal breeders to make beneficial genetic changes, without bringing along unwanted genetic changes.
"Following in the footsteps of traditional breeding, gene editing has tremendous potential to boost the sustainability of livestock production, while also enhancing food-animal health and welfare," said animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam from the University Of California.
"Now, genome editing promises to complement traditional breeding programs by precisely introducing desirable genetic variations into livestock breeding programs," Van Eenennaam explained.
The team will examine the potential benefits of genome editing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to be held in Boston's Hynes Convention Center.
"A number of breeding methods, including artificial insemination, embryo transfer, crossbreeding and more recently, genomic selection, have been used to achieve these improvements," Van Eenennaam says.
She notes that genome editing has already been used to prevent livestock disease, including making pigs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory virus and to improve animal welfare by developing dairy cows that don't require horn removal.
Research is underway to extend applications of gene editing in the future. Gene editing might, for example, make it possible to produce offspring of only one gender, such as only hens for egg-laying operations.
The potential for applying gene-editing techniques to make improvements in food-animal production largely hinges on future regulatory processes, explained Van Eenennaam.
The researchers noted that gene editing does not transfer novel DNA into an animal, but can be used to make changes within the animal's own genes.
"The resulting DNA sequence may be identical to existing, naturally-occurring DNA sequences," she says.