Farming is poised for a gene editing revolution that could overcome some of the world’s most serious livestock diseases, the UK’s top animal scientist has said.
Prof Eleanor Riley, director of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, said new techniques will soon allow breeders to genetically engineer disease resilience and, in some cases, immunity into pedigree animals, saving farmers millions of pounds a year.
“Genes can be modified to massively increase resistance and resilience to infection,” she said. “The health and welfare benefits of this could be enormous.”
Roslin, one of a handful of sites in the world with the capacity for both gene editing and running animal trials, recently announced it had made pigs that appear to be completely immune to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), also known as blue ear disease, which costs the swine industry £120m a year in pig deaths and expensive biosecurity. In a separate trial, Roslin is testing pigs designed to be resistant to African swine fever, a highly infectious disease that has recently swept across the Baltic countries and into Poland, causing alarm among farmers.
Riley, who took over as director in September, said the PRRSV-resistant pigs could be approved for use on farms within three to five years, if a trial that has just finished involving a dozen pigs confirms the animals are immune.
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