By Kate Kelland
LONDON, September 14 (Reuters) – Researchers have created genetically modified pigs, goats and cattle to produce sperm with traits such as disease resistance and higher meat quality, which they say is a step towards genetically improving livestock to improve food production.
The animals, created for the first time by researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom using a gene editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9, could be used as “surrogate herons”, essentially sterile shiny slate, which could then be transplanted with stem cells producing the desired sperm. , the researchers said. The process could help farmers breed healthier and more productive animals that use fewer resources such as feed, medicine and water, they said. It could also give breeders in remote regions of the world better access to genetic material from elite animals from elsewhere, enabling “precision breeding”
“With this technology, we can better communicate desirable traits and improve the efficiency of food production,” said Jon Oatley, a reproductive biologist at Washington State University in the United States who co-led the work.
He said this could have a major impact on tackling food insecurity around the world. “If we can tackle this genetically, it means less water, less feed and fewer antibiotics that we need to put in the animals.”
Yet gene editing has long been a controversial topic, and recent advances could face opposition from critics opposed to genetic modification of animals, which they regard as dangerous manipulation of nature.
The researchers stressed that the gene editing process they used was only designed to bring about changes within an animal species that could occur naturally.
This research was a “proof of concept,” they said, showing that the technique could work. However, the current rules mean that genetically modified surrogate fathers could not be used in the food chain anywhere in the world, even if their offspring would not be genetically modified, the researchers added.
Oatley’s team used CRISPR-Cas9 to knock out a gene specifically for male fertility in the animal embryos that would be raised to become the surrogate father. The mandibles were then born sterile, but began producing sperm after researchers transplanted stem cells from donor animals into their testicles. “This shows the world that this technology is real. It can be used,” said Bruce Whitelaw, an expert at the Roslin Institute at Britain’s Edinburgh University who worked on the team. “We must now … figure out how we can best use it productively to feed our growing population.” (Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Pravin Char)
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