Milk and meat from cattle and buffaloes contribute 45% of the global animal protein supply, followed by chickens (31%), and pigs (20%). In 2016, the global cattle population of 1.0 billion head produced 6.5 billion tons of cows’ milk, and 66 million tons of beef. In the past century, cattle breeding programs have greatly increased the yield per animal with a resultant decrease in the emissions intensity per unit of milk or beef, but this has not been true in all regions. Genome editing research in cattle to date has focused on disease resistance (e.g. tuberculosis), production (e.g. myostatin knockout; production of all-male offspring), elimination of allergens (e.g. beta-lactoglobulin knockout) and welfare (e.g. polled or hornlessness) traits. Modeling has revealed how the use of genome editing to introduce beneficial alleles into cattle breeds could maintain or even accelerate the rate of genetic gain accomplished by conventional breeding programs, and is a superior approach to the lengthy process of introgressing those same alleles from distant breeds. Genome editing could be used to precisely introduce useful alleles (e.g. heat tolerance, disease resistance) and haplotypes into native locally-adapted cattle breeds, thereby helping to improve their productivity. As with earlier genetic engineering approaches, whether breeders will be able to employ genome editing in cattle genetic improvement programs will very much depend upon global decisions around the regulatory framework and governance of genome editing for food animals.
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The author acknowledges funding support from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant (BRAG) program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award numbers 2013-68004-20364, 2015-67015-23316, 2015-33522-24106 and 2017-33522-27097.
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This paper was given at the OECD Conference on Genome Editing: Applications in Agriculture—Implications for Health, Environment and Regulation which took place at the OECD on 28 and 29 June, and which was sponsored by the OECD Co‐operative Research Programme: Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems whose financial support made it possible for the author to participate in the conference.
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Van Eenennaam, A.L. Application of genome editing in farm animals: cattle. Transgenic Res 28, 93–100 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-019-00141-6