Using gene editing to improve animal welfare may quell fear of ‘Franken-animals’

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Hornless heifer calf #1 of gene-edited bull alongside horned Hereford control calf on right (Image source: Alison Van Eenennaam/Twitter)

A company wants to alter farm animals by adding and subtracting genetic traits in a lab. It sounds like science fiction, but Recombinetics sees opportunity for its technology in the livestock industry.

But first, it needs to convince regulators that gene-edited animals are no different than conventionally bred ones. To make the technology appealing and to ease any fears that it may be creating Franken-animals, Recombinetics isn’t starting with productivity. Instead, it’s introducing gene-edited traits as a way to ease animal suffering.

“It’s a better story to tell,” said Tammy Lee, CEO of the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company.

For instance, animal welfare advocates have long criticized the way farmers use caustic paste or hot irons to dehorn dairy cows so the animals don’t harm each other. Recombinetics snips out the gene for growing horns so the procedure is unnecessary.

Related article:  Podcast: How domestication turned cattle into a key source of increasingly sustainable food

Last year, a bull gene-edited by Recombinetics to have the dominant hornless trait sired several offspring. All were born hornless as expected ….

Another Recombinetics project: castration-free pigs.

When male piglets go through puberty, their meat can take on an unpleasant odor, something known as “boar taint.” To combat it, farmers castrate pigs, a procedure animal welfare advocates say is commonly performed without painkillers. Editing genes so that pigs never go through puberty would make castration unnecessary.

Read full, original article: Farm animals may soon get new features through gene editing

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