Animal geneticists from around the world are meeting this week inMinneapolis (Monday, July 24th) amid protests from opponents ofbiotechnology. They worry scientists are pushing the frontiers ofanimal breeding into the controversial territory of geneticengineering. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Losure reports:
Animal geneticists from around the world are meeting this week in Minneapolis (Monday, July
24th) amid protests from opponents of biotechnology. They worry scientists are pushing the
frontiers of animal breeding into the controversial territory of genetic engineering. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Losure reports.
Midwest farmers have planted genetically altered crops since the late
So called GMO crops like Bt corn and roundup ready soybeans are
bioengineered to contain a gene from another species. They now make up one third of the
corn and half the soybean crops.
Genetically altered crops have sparked growing public opposition. Now, the
possibility of genetically altered farm livestock is on the horizon.
So far, scientists have created goats, sheep and dairy cows with
genes for use in laboratories. The animals produce human pharmaceuticals in
their milk. For example, the high tech cows can produce the substance
need so their blood can clot properly.
In theory, scientists could use the same technology to create high tech
cows for widespread commercial use by the nation’s farmers. The cows could
genetically engineered to resist diseases or produce more milk.
But Chuck Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food, and
Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota, says huge obstacles
stand in the way.
“It’s very, very expensive, it’s almost not feasible except for
most valuable of all human pharmaceuticals. That may happen within the
to have very, very specialized pharmaceutical producing animals, but I
think it’s likely to be routine production of milk or dairy or meat products,
within the next decade. I think that’s a much longer term time horizon.”
For one thing, genetically engineered animals are much difficult to
than plants. In general, embryonic cells injected with the desired gene
be cloned and raised in surrogate mothers. The failure rate of cloning is
spectacularly high. It takes 100 attempts to produce just two or 3 live
offspring. Muscoplat says current technology just isn’t up to the task of
producing genetically engineered animals on a large scale.
More importantly, he says , the public still needs to deal with the
social and ethical questions raised by the new technology.
“I think these things find their way into society when society
comes to understand them and realizes the benefits outweigh the risks, and its my opinion that community is not yet ready for genetically modified animals on
any large scale.”
But others seem undaunted by the obstacles. Michael Bishop is president of
Infigen Incorporated, a biotechnology company in DeForest, Wisconsin. The
company owns the technology that led to the birth of the worlds first
cow in 1997. Bishop says his company is very close to producing
modified livestock for widespread commercial use.
“All we lack is the genes that we want to put in the cells to do
right now. Because we could create the founder animals carrying the gene,
instance the bull, and use that bull to breed literally thousands and
Bishop says he expects the necessary genes will be identified within the
few years. But even if the company solves the technical problems standing
the way of transgenic farm animals, Bishop acknowledges the public may not
ready for them.
“That may take a few years. We may need to do more research to prove to
public that we’re good stewards of technology, and that the technology
not harm the animals, and that the products from the animals do not harm
The public may still have a few years to get used to the idea of transgenic
farm animals. But transgenic FISH are much closer to the market place.
are easier to genetically manipulate than animals, because fish produce
massive numbers of eggs that can be raised in water. A Waltham,
based company called A/F Protein is now raising test pens of genetically
altered salmon on Prince Edward Island in Canada. The salmon contain a
from a cold water fish known as an eel pout. They grow 4 to 6 times faster
than standard salmon. Company president Elliot Entis hopes to have the
genetically altered salmon ready for sale to commercial fish farmers in two
years. He says they will be clearly labeled to show their high tech
“We’re very sensitive to the fact that consumers need to be made aware
what the product is. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
The company is now in the process of seeking approval from the Federal Food
Drug Administration. Entis says the main objections have come from
environmentalists concerned that the transgenic fish could escape from fish
farms and mate with wild fish. The company plans to address those concerns
sterilizing its genetically modified salmon.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Losure.