"We're in the age of biotechnology": Learn how UC Davis is working to make beef and dairy production more sustainable

“We’re in the age of biotechnology”: Learn how UC Davis is working to make beef and dairy production more sustainable

According to Pew Research: 48% of Americans say GM foods are not safe to eat, while a much lower median of 13% say GM foods are safe.

DAVIS, Calif. — With rising temperatures and worsening droughts, scientists are imagining ways to ensure farming and agriculture can be better for the environment and more efficient. And they realize their dreams, thanks to genetics.

This fall, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing in the United States: it covers many areas, from medicine and energy to agriculture.

The idea is to remain competitive with countries like China.

To examine what is possible, ABC10 focused on the research underway right here in Northern California to make beef and dairy production more sustainable.

“We inactivated a gene that contributes to fertility,” said a researcher.

The UC Davis researchers speculated that the particular gene they knocked out will render one of their cows infertile. If correct: This identification will help them in their long-term efforts to breed cattle with the best genetics.

This has been the work of Professor Alison Van Eenennaam for over 20 years.

“Genetics is an important part of sustainability,” Van Eenennaam said. “So if we can have animals that are disease resistant, adaptable and can withstand the heat, we could actually produce more product with fewer animals and that’s really what breeders have been striving for. worms, for everything since animal husbandry began.

The genes of Frodo, one of the UC Davis cows, were manipulated using CRISPR, a breakthrough technology that won the Noble Prize in 2020.

Other UC Davis projects using the CRISPR method include genetically editing dairy cows so they don’t develop horns.

The majority of cattle are dehorned to prevent injury between animals and handlers.

The dehorning of livestock is a practice of animal rights and welfare concern. Van Eenennaam says crossbreeding alone could eliminate the horns, but the resulting calf, “It’s not really a dairy animal. It’s not really a meat animal, and it won’t have the ideal characteristics. for either industry.”

She says it would take decades to raise cows to milk production standards – while those standards continue to climb.

“You’ll never catch up with what’s called the genetic lag,” Van Eenennaam said.

She hopes targeted gene editing can produce polled cows without the time commitments of conventional crossbreeding.

According to Pew Research: 48% of Americans say GM foods are not safe to eat, while a much lower median of 13% say GM foods are safe.

This contradicts a clear scientific consensus that genetically modified foods are safe.

Only one genetically modified food product has been marketed in the United States: AquaAdvantage salmon.

And just this year, the FDA cleared smooth-coated cattle for use in the United States. They are beef cattle that have been genetically modified to have short hair, a trait that allows them to withstand high heat as the climate continues to warm.

The FDA determined that the modifications were equivalent to natural mutations.

“We are in the era of biotechnology, and it is literally influencing and revolutionizing agriculture, medicine, everyday life, the creation of everyday products and synthetic biology. So it’s revolutionary,” said Jon Entine, founder of the Genetic Literacy Project.

Entine says bioscience needs public buy-in to succeed — which is why addressing public concerns is important.

“There are challenges ahead and we have to be respectful,” Entine said.

Many criticisms of GMOs involve monopolization of technology, unintended consequences, ethics, and safety.

Signaling a possible path to more acceptance.

As mentioned earlier, President Biden issued an executive order to push more government dollars into America’s biotech industry – drawing parallels to former President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 race to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Entine and Van Eenennaam say cracks in Biden’s executive order open the door to more innovation, but are cautiously optimistic.

“I’ve also watched for 20 years how slowly the wheels sometimes turn in DC, but any effort from the president or Washington to try to improve the process is welcome,” Van Eenennaam said.

“But we can’t let the regulatory situation get bogged down in a debate over mere differences of opinion that ultimately aren’t based on science,” Entine said.

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