What is GMO?
The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. What is most confusing about this definition is the use of the word "Modified". The dictionary's definition of the word “Modified” is to make changes, to improve, or even restrict.
However, it is not quite accurate to say that GMO is MODIFIED or simply changed, and here is why.
In the sense of GMO, "Modified" actually means that a foreign gene has been artificially INSERTED into another organism. This gene can come from an entirely different species or even a bacterium.
We see this most often in plants, making crops more tolerant of drought or resistant to a disease such as blight.
The gene that is inserted into the organism is called a transgene.
A transgene is a gene that is artificially introduced or inserted into the genome of another organism, and in this way making the organism a GMO.
As we can see, MODIFIED should be more like INSERTED or INTRODUCED or better yet, ADDED or GAO rather than a GMO!
WHAT IS GENE EDITING?
Gene editing is the process of using technologies such as, but not limited to, CRISPR/Cas 9, to make changes in the genetic code of an organism.
Can you see now where the confusion comes from when we talk about either GMO or gene editing. They are entirely different!
Gene editing is not GMO because we are not introducing any new genetic material, rather we are helping the cell in question to repair itself.
By using technology such as CRISPR, we can politely ask the cell to repair itself in such a way that the cell now has the trait we were looking for. This repair allows for the cell to gain a naturally occurring benefit such as disease resistance or improved heat tolerance.
We are simply unlocking the animal’s DNA to access the health benefits that are already and naturally there.
CAN CRISPR BE USED TO MAKE GMO?
CRISPR technology can be used to make GMO when instead of repairing a cell, we artificially insert new genetic material in the form of a transgene.
CRISPR is a technology that allows us to either make GMO or to gene edit an organism, depending on how the alteration happens.
HOW IS PRECISION BREEDING DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL BREEDING OR GMO?
Let’s talk about conventional breeding and what that is for a second.
Farmers have livestock and this livestock is bred to improve certain aspects. For example, the Holstein black and white cows are excellent at producing milk. This is something they have been bred for and selected for...for a very long time. In fact, for hundreds of years.
But most of them have horns.
If we breed an excellent milk producer to another breed of cattle that doesn’t have horns, it will take many years to get the trait to show in the Holstein with every single breeding. We will also sacrifice the milk production and we won’t be able to register the animal as purebred. All of these factors affect the farmer.
The ability to use CRISPR allows us to speed up the process of selection without the use of transgenes. Since we have breeds of cattle such as Angus that don’t have horns, we can unlock the animal’s DNA to express that highly desired trait in just one breeding cycle.
Check out our infographic below.
What are some of the traits you are working on?
One of the traits that we present is called SLICK. It helps cattle become more heat tolerant.
Polled or hornless cattle is another trait that we have worked on.
There are also certain disease resistant traits as well as castration free traits that are in the pipeline.
HOW DOES ACCELIGEN KNOW WHICH TRAITS TO WORK ON?
That is a great question!
You see, while many of us who work at Acceligen have backgrounds in the farm industry, we now work in the corporate world.
In order to bring forth traits that are important to the industry, we work with breed associations and with breeders, also known as farmers and/or ranchers. We also work with NGOs and pretty much everyone throughout the value chain.
We rely on the market input from those who will use and benefit from technological advances most.
HOW DOES GENE EDITING HELP FARMERS?
One of the ways that gene editing helps farmers is by speeding up the process of bringing the desired trait to their herd. Instead of working for decades to introduce one trait while trying to keep the other desirable traits such as milk production, we can help speed this process up considerably.
This helps the farmer manage animal stress, and it keeps the costs down.
Another way gene editing can help farmers is to reduce the use of medicinals. If the procedure of dehorning is no longer needed, the calves do not need to be administered lidocaine, which is a medicinal, and that saves cost. But they also do not have to spend time performing an unsavory task.
how does gene editing help you & me, the consumer?
Well, we all care where our food comes from, right?
If the animals used in the food supply chain do not have to undergo stress, they are exposed to fewer medicinals, and that is just better for us all.
By choosing to have gene edited animals in the food supply chain, we are supporting animal well-being, our local farmers & we are helping with climate change. We all need to do our part.
HOW CAN GENE EDITING HELP ANIMALS?
Gene editing helps with animal well-being and here is how.
With the polled trait, calves would no longer have to undergo dehorning.
Calves would not have to be injected with medicinals and less stress is just better.
With the SLICK trait, cattle will be able to handle tropical and subtropical climates.
How do you feel after spending a whole day outside in the heat? Thirsty, lightheaded and wanting for some air conditioning? Cattle too can get heat stress. They get very thirsty and sometimes refuse food. When cattle don’t eat, they don’t absorb nutrients which can make them ill. Cows produce less milk for their calves. There may even be need for veterinary intervention and medicinals.
Cattle with the SLICK gene can withstand challenging environments without the added stress or sickness.
And you can imagine how disease resistance can help. The animals don’t become ill, don’t need medication, making the trait a win-win.
How can gene editing help with climate change & the environment?
In hotter, less hospitable climates, we tend to build barns for our cattle. There, the cattle can find shade & comfort.
These barns are most often equipped with very large and noisy fans that run most of the day, using electricity. These fans help cool the cattle.
Heat tolerance trait can help cattle remain in the fields longer, reducing our carbon footprint.
There are other ways of course that gene editing can help with climate change, including but not limited to animals requiring fewer natural resources such as water or less use of antibiotics, reduced hormone use and reduced waste.
IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MILK OR MEAT FROM A PRECISION BRED ANIMAL FROM ONE THAT WAS TRADITIONALLY BRED?There is no nutritional, compositional or quality difference.