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Researcher: Gene editing can improve animal welfare

Animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam spoke at the annual meeting of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) in Lincoln.

Animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam spoke at the annual meeting of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) in Lincoln.

A University of California-Davis animal geneticist says gene editing can improve the welfare of farm animals.

Alison Van Eenennaam cites UC-Davis research to eliminate the dehorning of Holstein dairy calves as an example.

“We’ve been able to tweak the DNA in Holsteins—which of course are a dairy breed that grow horns—that actually makes it such that the ‘horn gene’ gets turned off. Like Angus cattle, which don’t grow horns,” Van Eenennaam says, “and so we basically now have polled Holsteins—Holsteins that don’t grow horns—as a result of this edit.”

Van Eenennaam says gene editing can also improve disease resistance in animals.

“So, for example, PRRS in pigs—there’s a group at Missouri that’s turned off the gene where that virus attacks the pigs. So they’re no longer susceptible to that virus,” she says.

Some food safety activists have raised concerns with gene editing, similar to the debate over GMOs. But Van Eenennaam says gene editing of livestock is different. She calls it “precision breeding”.

“Because you’re not necessarily bringing in a gene from another species. You’re just making a tweak, or an edit, just as it sounds like.”

Brownfield visited with Van Eenennaam at a recent agricultural event in Nebraska.

AUDIO: Alison Van Eenennaam

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