USDA Forum told of gene editing benefits for animals and people

Gene editing can improve the health and welfare of animals, and the sustainability of our food supply, Elena Rice, CSO of Genus PLC told the USDA’s 98th Agricultural Outlook Forum late last month.

Using gene editing to speed up the traditional gains achieved by generations of cross-breeding can allow farmers to “help protect our food supply and create a more healthy, sustainable food system” and to meet “global protein demand in a sustainable manner,” according to Rice, a member of the board of Biology Innovation Organization (BIO).

The Agricultural Outlook Forum, organized by the Chief Economist of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), is described as “a unique platform where key stakeholders from the agricultural sector in the United States and around the world come together every year to discuss current and emerging topics and trends in the sector.”

Healthy pigs, less harmful cows

In a presentation about the benefits of animal genomics, Rice described her company’s most advanced solution, pigs whose genes are edited to remove “a tiny segment” of their DNA in order to be “completely resistant” to the potentially lethal porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). According to Iowa State University’s Veterinary College, PRRS is “the most economically significant disease to affect US swine production since the eradication of classical swine fever.”

Rice said her company has developed pigs that are nearly identical to non-gene-edited pigs, “except they do not get sick from PRRS.”

Another innovation Rice’s company is working on is a feed additive to reduce enteric methane emissions in ruminants (cow belches), which account for about 30% of all methane emissions in the United States.

“We need more science and not less” to improve animal health and welfare and meet “global protein demand in a sustainable manner,” Rice concluded, adding that we need policy that supports the development and deployment of these technologies.

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