Gene editing may produce breakthrough livestock ‘super dads’

Researchers at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom produced male pigs, goats, cows, and mice whose sperm carried the genetic traits of another male person.

This means that when these “super dads” breed, the resulting offspring are expected to carry the genes of all male donors instead of surrogates.

“This technology allows us to better spread desirable traits and improve the efficiency of food production,” John Otley, a biologist at Washington State University, said in a news release from the university on Monday.

“It can have a major impact on addressing food insecurity around the world. If we can tackle this genetically, it means that we need to put less water, less feed and less antibiotics into animals.”

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Here’s how the process works: First, researchers identify the animal that will be raised to become a surrogate father. Before animal birth, researchers use CRISPR gene-editing tools to remove a reproductive gene in the embryo.

The news states that the animal is born sterile but otherwise healthy. Then, the researchers take stem cells from a male donor, and transplant them into the surrogate’s testes – and the surrogate begins to produce sperm that only hold the donor’s genetic material.

When researchers banned surrogate mice, the offspring carried the donor’s male’s genes – showing “a powerful proof of concept”, the news release said. Pigs, goats and cows have not yet been tied up; The WSU team is refining the transplant process, before taking the next step.

The study, published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also included researchers from Utah State University, University of Maryland and University of Edinburgh. It was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an American federal government body, and other academic funding.

Implications for food supply

The findings can have major implications for the world’s food supply and food security as the global population grows.

According to the study, this method of breeding animals could potentially “improve production characteristics to produce meat, milk and fiber for human consumption” globally.

“It shows the world that this technology is real. It can be used,” said Bruce Whitelaw of the Roslin Institute of Edinburgh University. “Now we have to go in and use it in the best way possible to help feed our growing population.”

According to the release, the method also provides a more “natural” breeding process for livestock breeders and rankers. Instead of artificial insemination or selective breeding, which may require surgery or keep animals in smaller locations, new technology may allow animals to move around and breed at their own pace – because when they do so, The offspring will still be the desired male donor gene.

This technique may allow ranchers to produce animals with elevated symptoms – for example, greater resistance to disease or better heat tolerance.

In particular, the discovery may affect the cattle industry, as it opens up the intriguing possibility of “one day evolving bulls ‘super dads’, which then exploit the spread of desirable genetics in cattle populations around the world.” Can be done, ”the study said.

It can be used to conserve endangered species

This new technique can also be used in the conservation of endangered species according to studies. When the number of a species decreases, animal communities diverge from each other and genetic diversity falls – something gene editing can address.

Scientists around the world are rushing to develop new techniques, from in vitro fertilization (IVF) to cloning, which can save many species from extinction as large as we currently are.

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The rate at which species are dying has accelerated in recent decades, a study found this June; About 173 species went extinct between 2001 and 2014.

In Ohio, researchers celebrated in February when they enjoyed a breakthrough of their own – a pair of IVF-born cheetah cubs for the first time a surrogate cheetah mummy. Further south in Texas, researchers successfully mounted a herd of the endangered Przewalski’s horse for the first time earlier this month, raising hopes of reviving the species, known as the last wild horse.
And in Malaysia, where every Sumatra rhino has died, scientists are hoping to use frozen tissues and cells to give birth to new babies using surrogate mothers.

Controversial science

WSU News released the scientists’ breakthrough as “the latest step in animal husbandry” – but comes as a push to companies and consumers for more meat substitutes.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock represent 14.5% of all global emissions. Livestock farming has such a great effect because cows emit methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas. Raising animals for food also makes a tremendous use of land and water, some of which can be used to feed food more efficiently.

In the face of our climate crisis, many people are calling for a switch to plant-based diets and to cut down on the large-scale animal industry – rather than moving forward with meat production, as new studies propose.

The study may also attract controversy for a different reason: Any advancement with gene editing technology inevitably raises questions of ethics, especially after a Chinese scientist gave birth to the world’s first gene-editing child in 2018, International backlash indicated.

The news release acknowledged that its new surrogate SIR technology faces obstacles to “government regulations and public perception”.

“When the technology is advanced enough for commercialization, the gene-aided surrogate cirrus cannot be used anywhere under the world under food regulations, even though their offspring will not be genetically edited,” the release said. . ”

“This is due in part to misconceptions that gene editing is similar to controversial gene manipulation, (WSU biologist) Ottley said,” according to the release. “Gene editing involves making changes within a species that can occur naturally. It does not combine the DNA of different species.”