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Farm animals may soon get new features through gene editing, stoking ethics debate

Recombinetics and others say gene-editing techniques do what traditional breeding has always done, except much faster and with the precision of 'molecular scissors'.

Editor The ARK Center

CANDICE CHOI: ‘Cows that can withstand hotter temperatures. Cows born without pesky horns. Pigs that never reach puberty. A company wants to alter farm animals by adding and subtracting genetic traits in a lab… 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 is 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, making the procedure unnecessary.

Last year, a bull that had been gene-edited by Recombinetics to have the dominant hornless trait sired several offspring. All were born hornless, as expected, and are being raised at the University of California, Davis. Once the female offspring starts lactating, its milk will be tested for any abnormalities…

Also in development are dairy cows that could withstand higher temperatures, so the animals don’t suffer in hotter climates. Recombinetics and others say gene-editing techniques do what traditional breeding has always done, except much faster and with the precision of “molecular scissors.” They are waiting for clarity from government officials, but say meat and milk from gene-edited animals shouldn’t be subject to special regulations’. SOURCE…

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