GMO cows resistant to tuberculosis — first step to antibiotic-free cattle

❝ Precise gene editing, the stuff of science fiction, has been a reality since 2015. That was when CRISPR-Cas9 came in full force to the scientific field after decades of research. The technology allows scientists to go in and essentially snip and tuck genes from one organism to another to enhance them in some way, and it’s already been done with pigs, fish, mice, and mosquitos, as well as human embryos.

❝ …Scientists from the Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China demonstrated they have made healthy baby cows that have been modified to be more resilient against bovine tuberculosis — with no adverse side effects.

…Yong Zhang, a bioinformaticist and the lead author of the paper…and his team meticulously combed through the cow genome and found a place where they thought they may be able to insert another copy of a gene called NRAMP1, which occurs naturally in cows. This gene has been associated with being able to resist infection from bovine TB; by adding a second copy, the researchers thought they could vamp up this resistance.

They used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to insert the extra copy of NRAMP1 into 11 young cow embryos before inserting them back into cows to gestate as usual. After the healthy calves were born, the researchers exposed them to bovine TB. The cattle, who didn’t appear to have any other health consequences as a result of being modified, didn’t get sick, and their immune systems seemed less bothered by the bacteria than cows that hadn’t been altered.

❝ …In North America, farmers don’t give antibiotics to cows with this infection. Instead, they are slaughtered, Reynold Bergen, the science director of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said in an email. This is because bovine TB spreads really quickly, and often when one cow is diagnosed, the whole herd has to be killed to prevent further infection of people or other animals, and it’s difficult to detect early on.

But if cows don’t get sick to begin with, farmers wouldn’t lose their herds. Additionally, the authors think that similar methods could be used to give cows and other livestock genetic resistance to other bacterial infections, which means that they would not need to take antibiotics, which contributes to the growing problem of infections that are resistant to the treatments we have available for them.

Bravo! Not only a successful result; but, the sort of practical goal which improves health for a couple of species – including us. Sometimes, working towards less medication is realized to be a positive end.

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