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Animal Usage in Biotechnology: Controversies vs. Possibilities

In the past three decades, animal usage in Biotechnology has immensely developed. Modern genetic engineering technologies alter the usage of animals and lead to fundamental changes in the relationship between humans and other species. Animal biotechnology, as a branch of biotechnology, uses genetic engineering and molecular biology techniques to genetically engineer animals for agriculture, industrial, or pharmaceutical applications.

Two Main Categories Of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering can be put into two main categories: transgenics and cloning. Transgenics transfer specific genes from one organism to another and alters the characteristics by changing the organism‘s protein makeup. Cloning is a somatic cell nuclear transfer induced process of producing copies of mammals.

Three Categories Of Animal Biotechnology

So far, animal biotechnology is divided into three separate categories: biopharmaceuticals for animal or human use, live cells, tissues, and organs for xenotransplantation, and gene engineering for food market purposes.

History Of Animal Usage In Biotechnology

Animal usage in Biotechnology has a long history dating back to 5000 before our era.  Ancient humans started crossing diverse strains of animals to produce desirable traits in animals or create new breeds for agricultural reasons.

The modern era of animal usage in Biotechnology began in the 1960s with the discovery of a double-helix model of DNA and the discovery of restriction enzymes in bacteria. Restriction enzymes cut the DNA strands and help to insert genetic material from one cell to another to create a new modified organism.

By using restriction enzymes, Stanley Cohen and Herbey Boyer succeeded to remove and insert a specific gene from one bacterium to another in 1973. This is the mark date in DNA technology and genetic engineering.

The First Genetically Modified Animals

The first production of genetically modified animals began in the early 1980s. Yet, cloning technology became public through Ian Wilmut, who used somatic cell nuclear transfer technology to produce the first cloned sheep in the world, Dolly, in 1996.

First cloning works were carried out on laboratory animals such as mice, sheep, or cattle. Recently, biotechnologies have been adapted to pigs, goats, fish, horses, and other animal species that have been used for human consumption. As more animal species are genetically modified, more and more cloned or genetically modified animals reach the food market.

Editing The Genomes Of Dairy Cows

In 2016, a group of scientists successfully edited the genomes of dairy cows. The scientists used the transcription activator-like effector nucleases DNA editing technique to introduce a natural allele linked to hornlessness. Fives hornless calves were born, but it would take decades to introduce this new gene to the population.

Genetically Modified Salmon

AquaBounty Technologies produced a genetically modified salmon in 2017. This salmon is the first genetically modified animal for human consumption approved by FDA (Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.). Scientists have been working on gene modification for 25 years to give a growth-hormone gene to salmon. The company sold some 4.5 tons of its hotly debated product in Canada. However, people are still reluctant to put modified salmon on their dinner table.

Criticism Of Animal Usage In Biotechnology

On the other hand, animal usage in Biotechnology faces harsh criticism on food safety, animal welfare, and ecosystems.  Foods or food products made from engineered animals must be free of agents — chemical or biological —  to ensure safe consumption for humans and animals.

Also, animal engineering for food purposes can express new proteins that may cause allergenicity, bioactivity, and toxicity. The recent animal cloning techniques use somatic cells, and there is no research on somatic cloning food safety yet.

Loss Of Biodiversity

Another issue is the loss of biodiversity. This problem is associated with animal habitat destruction and human overexploitation for agriculture and biomedicine fields.  Experiments on animals diminish the animal supply since test animals are usually utilized after scientific research and experiments.

There is a risk that genetically engineered animals could escape and incorporate into the population. The danger of changing the genome of the specific population can lead to environmental harm.

Europe Remains Conservative With Regulations

So far, the European Union remains conservative on animal usage in biotechnology and bans the commercial use of cloning and production of foods from cloned animals.  The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on July 24, 2008, released its scientific opinion on the food safety, animal health and welfare, and environmental impacts of animals derived from cloning.

EFSA limited the production of cloned animals only to cattle and pigs. Cloning is limited only to research, conservation of rare breeds and endangered species, or for use in the production of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Later European Parlament introduced a ban on the marketing of meat and milk from cloned animals in 2009, which is still in use today.

Justina Sumilova
Justina Sumilova
Justina Šumilova is a copywriter with three years of experience specializing in blog articles and social media content. She has experience in the fields of literature, history, travel, health, biotech, fintech.


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