Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam Emphasizes Potential of Gene Editing in the Cattle Industry

Listen to Ron Hays talk with Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam about gene editing.

At Cattlemen’s Conference Part 2: Blueprint for the Future, Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster Ron Hays had the chance to talk with Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California-Davis about gene editing. Dr. Eenennaam was the key note speaker the first evening of the Conference and was on a follow up panel the next morning on the science and regulatory challenges of gene editing.

“Gene editing basically enables you to do a targeted alteration in the genome to introduce a useful trait,” Van Eenennaam said. “It is a way to add to your breeding program when you already have a genetically elite animal, and you would like to add one more characteristic such as not growing horns, for example. Maybe in beef cattle, you want to add heat tolerance so you can introduce the slick allele that already exists naturally in Senepol cattle, and you’d like to maybe introduce it to Angus for example.”

 As many are not aware of the differences between gene editing and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Van Eenennaam explained that gene editing is simply bringing out genes that already exist within an animal’s genome.

“The difference between genome editing is that you can actually use editors to make a targeted change in the genome without introducing foreign DNA or transgenic DNA,” Van Eenennaam said. “It is tweaking the genome of an animal in the same way that we naturally do in selection, because nature is always tweaking the genome of animals, and in fact, humans. That is the basis of evolution and our selection programs.”

Van Eenennaam said gene editing mimics a naturally occurring process, but the advantage is that it can be accomplished in a targeted way. For example, gene editing can be used to inactivate a gene that makes an animal susceptible to a particular disease.

“In this case, we are just tweaking the genome of the animal itself to activate (or inactivate) a gene that gives us a particular characteristic that we would like in our breeding programs,” Van Eenennaam said.

The Beef Buzz is a regular feature heard on radio stations around the region on the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network and is a regular audio feature found on this website as well. Click on the LISTEN BAR at the top of the story for today’s show and check out our archives for older Beef Buzz shows covering the gamut of the beef cattle industry today.

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