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.

Uh, does your cat have a persistent cough?

Two people in England have been infected with TB by domestic cats who contracted the bovine strain of tuberculosis. The announcement came from Public Health England and they say the risk of further spread of the disease is very low…

There are reportedly nine cats who are carrying the strain of TB that infected the two people. The same strain has been found in two other people but the disease is in its latent form. This particular strain is bovine TB which comes from cattle but badgers may have been behind the outbreak.

Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore of the Feline Clinic at the Roslin Institute says that future outbreaks can be prevented from paying attention to the health of pets.

“We’re not thinking about infectious diseases but if we have a cat or dog with a skin lesion that won’t heal or a persistent cough, then we must take them to the vet and the vet needs to have a look at them and the vet needs to be thinking that TB might be a possibility.”

Cripes. One more thing for world-class hypochondriacs to worry about.

Cow farts sparked into explosion, fire at German dairy farm

The methane gas released by 90 flatulent cows caused an explosion in a farm shed in Germany, damaging the roof and injuring one of the animals, local police said.

In a statement, the force said high levels of the methane gas had built up within the structure in the central German town of Rasdorf on Monday thanks to animals belches and flatulence, before “a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames.”

The subsequent blast damaged the roof of the cow shed, Reuters reported. Emergency services who attended the scene took gas readings to check for any potential further blasts.

One of the cows was injured and had to be treated for burns it sustained during the incident, a police spokesman added.

No need to add a political comment. You can come up with your own, no doubt.

Rancher defies government to save Fukushima’s radioactive cows


Click to enlargeNew York Times/Ko Sasaki

Angered by what he considers the Japanese government’s attempts to sweep away the inconvenient truths of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Masami Yoshizawa has moved back to his ranch in the radioactive no-man’s land surrounding the devastated plant. He has no neighbors, but plenty of company: hundreds of abandoned cows he has vowed to protect from the government’s kill order…

“These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima,” said Mr. Yoshizawa, 59, a gruff but eloquent man with a history of protest against his government. “The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them…”

Mr. Yoshizawa is no sentimentalist — before the disaster, he raised cows for slaughter. But he says there is a difference between killing cows for food and killing them because, in their contaminated state, they are no longer useful. He believes the cows on his ranch, abandoned by him and other fleeing farmers after the accident, are as much victims as the 83,000 humans forced to abandon their homes and live outside the evacuation zone for two and a half years.

He is worried about his health. A dosage meter near the ranch house reads the equivalent of about 1.5 times the government-set level for evacuation. But he is more fearful that the country will forget about the triple meltdowns at the plant as Japan’s economy shows signs of long-awaited recovery and Tokyo excitedly prepares for the 2020 Olympics — suggesting his protest is as least as much a political statement, as a humanitarian one…

He still searches the evacuation zone for the often emaciated survivors, which he often has to pull by their ears to get them to follow him home. He tries to dodge police roadblocks; it is technically illegal for anyone to live inside the evacuation zone. Nonetheless, he has been caught a half-dozen times and forced to sign prewritten statements of apology for entering the zone. He has done so, but only after crossing out the promises not to do it again…

Mr. Yoshizawa notes wryly that the cows are living much longer than they would have if they had been led off to slaughter.

For now, the local authorities have come up with a very Japanese solution to Mr. Yoshizawa’s defiance: turning a blind eye. Town officials in Namie deny knowledge of him or anyone else living inside the evacuation zone — despite the fact that they have restored electricity and telephone service to the ranch.

Though I’m not certain about the sense of Mr. Yoshizawa’s protest, the essentials, the history of what led up to his dissent, is certainly protest-worthy. Having worked around radioactive materials and components for nuclear power plants, I am concerned about his long-term health. It has always seemed that whatever level the powers-that-be announced as tolerable sooner or later were reduced.

The half-life of Cesium-137 is a tad over 30 years. Present in his own body and the cows.

I wish him well.

Marijuana silage turns pot-eating pigs into tastier pork roast

With Washington state about to embark on a first-of-its-kind legal market for recreational marijuana, the budding ranks of new cannabis growers face a quandary over what to do with the excess stems, roots and leaves from their plants.

Susannah Gross, who owns a five-acre farm north of Seattle, is part of a group experimenting with a solution that seems to make the most of marijuana’s appetite-enhancing properties – turning weed waste into pig food.

Four pigs whose feed was supplemented with potent plant leavings during the last four months of their lives ended up 20 to 30 pounds heavier than the half-dozen other pigs from the same litter when they were all sent to slaughter in March.

“They were eating more, as you can imagine,” Gross said.

Giving farm animals the munchies is the latest outcome of a ballot measure passed by Washington voters in November making their state one of the first to legalize the recreational use of pot. The other was Colorado. Both were among about 20 states with medical marijuana laws already on their books.

The federal government still classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic, and the Obama administration has not yet said what actions, if any, it will take in answer to the newly passed recreational weed statutes.

You were expecting, maybe, leadership?

Matt McAlman, the medical marijuana grower who provided the pot leavings for Gross’ pigs, says he hopes the idea expands with the likely impending expansion of Washington state’s marijuana industry.

We can have pot chickens, pot pigs, grass-fed beef,” he said.

Draft regulations issued last week to govern the burgeoning recreational-use industry seem to leave open that possibility. The rules dictate that marijuana plant waste must be “rendered unusable prior to leaving a licensed producer or processor’s facility,” adding that mixing it with food waste would be acceptable.

Sounds good to me. Might even enjoy some baby back ribs with a dash of THC flavoring brought to a bouquet by delicate smoking.

Here comes spring!

The video shows cows being released from winter confinement to graze outdoors on the Beemster polder for the first time in spring.

Beemster Graskaas is a rare, extra smooth cheese made in April from the first milking of the cows as they leave the barn for the first time after the cold, windy winter. The milk taken during the first weeks of Spring is the creamiest and is used to create a special edition cheese to be released at the Spring Cheese Festival.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Genetically modified cows produce hypoallergenic milk

Infants with milk allergies could have an alternative to formula after scientists created a genetically modified cow that produced hypoallergenic milk.

A team of researchers from New Zealand engineered the cow so that its milk would be almost entirely free of beta-lactuglobin, a protein which causes allergies in young children.

Tests on the milk revealed that it contained 96 per cent less beta-lactuglobin than normal, but higher levels of other proteins which meant its nutritional content was not diminished.

Engineering cows to produce hypoallergenic milk could benefit the two to three per cent of children who are allergic to dairy milk in their first year of life, experts said.

Allergic reactions to proteins in cows’ milk can cause a variety of symptoms including eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

Children usually grow out of the condition before they reach school age, but in rare cases it can persist into adulthood…

Prof Bruce Whitelaw, Professor of Animal Biotechnology at Edinburgh University, who was not involved in the study, added: “This is notable since it represents one of the few RNA interference success stories in mammals and offers a good example of how these technologies can be used to provide alternative strategies to current manufacturing process.

Time will tell how widely applicable RNA interference will be in GM livestock – but this is certainly a milestone study in this field.”

The range of processes which can be genetically-altered to produce anything from less expensive sources of medical treatment up to and including replacement organs is beginning to reach pilot stage in research around the globe. Soon enough testing will evolve to determine which are long-term successes.

The usual conflicts between public good and private profit will be guaranteed – as will be the odd outburst of religious peristalsis from folks who still fear science more than superstition. Eventually, we will benefit as a species.

See – I told you. Cynic and optimist. We can get all this shit done – just not in my lifetime.

Are livestock antibiotics contributing to human obesity?

By altering the fine balance of gut bacteria which influence our metabolism, even small amounts of the drugs entering the food chain could have caused obesity rates to rise, researchers claim.

Although the use of antibiotics on farms is now banned in the EU due to the risk of germs becoming drug-resistant, it was commonplace in the 1950s and is still permitted in the US…

Prof Martin Blaser of New York University, who led the study, said: “The rise of obesity around the world is coincident with widespread antibiotic use, and our studies provide an experimental linkage…

For decades farmers in Britain and around the world fed low doses of antibiotics to cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens because the drug caused the animals to gain weight.

In the new study, researchers studied the effects of penicillin and other common antibiotics on weaning mice, using doses similar to the non-medical amounts used by farmers.

Their results, published in the Nature journal, showed that the drugs altered the balance of bacteria in their gut, causing metabolic changes which led them to gain 10 to 15 per cent more fat than untreated mice…

A related study published earlier this week by the same authors showed that young children who had taken small amounts of antibiotics were more likely to have higher amounts of body fat…

This study adds to the body of knowledge suggesting several mechanisms all of which tie antibiotics used to fatten animals to human weight gain – regardless of the lies rationales used by farmers to justify the drugs.