Targeted gene editing may accelerate genetic improvement

Published on: Sep 9, 2013

The first published research on the groundbreaking use of a modified gene-editing system to produce horn-free dairy cattle was released this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Drs. Scott Fahrenkrug and Perry Hackett and their team at Recombinetics, a Minnesota-based global innovator in genome editing, authored "Efficient Nonmeiotic Allele Introgression in Livestock Using Custom Endonucleases," a paper detailing an important new approach that will not only make hornless dairy cattle a reality, but accelerate the genetic improvement of livestock for food production and the development of regenerative medicines.

"For some time now, farmers have practiced selective breeding for desirable DNA variation with the intention of influencing livestock traits," Recombinetics chief executive officer Scott Fahrenkrug said. "In this paper, we have shown for the first time that it's possible to bypass decades of breeding by introgressing genetic variants directly into livestock genomes using targeted nucleases, without the use of any transgenic DNA. Our team used TALENs and other sequence-specific DNA scissors to custom-engineer and modify several genes of interest in pigs, cows and goats."

Recombinetics uses its proprietary genome-editing technologies to accelerate the breeding of natural characteristics in livestock to enhance their health and welfare and advance worldwide food production and safety.

The group demonstrated that a sequence associated with horns in dairy cattle could be converted to a natural beef cattle variant that is hornless, providing a strategy to improve animal welfare by genetics, instead of physical or chemical dehorning.

Targeted genetic improvement can save numerous generations and decades of selective breeding. The technology promises to rapidly enhance protein production in indigenous livestock breeds and to introduce natural disease resilience traits into breeds and species that don't already have them, Recombinetics said.

The paper also reports the introgression of precise variants from warthogs into the swine genome to protect against the highly-contagious and lethal African swine fever virus; and the copying of a natural sequence into the goat genome to increase the frequency of twinning, helping enhance food security for small farmers in the developing world.