The future of genetic alteration in food animal production
Keywords:genome editing, genetic engineering, genomic alteration, genetically modified organism (GMO), animal breeding
For centuries, animal breeders have intentionally selected the parents of the next generation based on their contended 'ideal' animal. The dramatic variation evidenced by the appearance and productivity of different breeds demonstrates the power of selective breeding. There are 4 variables that can be altered in breeding programs: 1) the accuracy of selection, 2] selection intensity, 3} the amount of genetic variation that is available among the selection candidates, and 4) the average age of the parents when their offspring are born. Any approach or technology that can improve 1 of these 4 components of the so-called "breeder's equation” can accelerate the rate of genetic gain. Animal breeders have routinely used both assisted reproductive technologies (e.g. artificial insemination) and advanced breeding methods (e.g. genomic selection) concurrently to accelerate genetic gains. Molecular methods to introduce useful genetic variation such as genetic engineering (GE) have met with regulatory obstacles and delay, and activist opposition. In 2017 the FDA issued a draft guidance proposing the regulation of all "intentional” genomic alterations as new animal drugs. There is a real possibility that this will preclude the development of beneficial GE and gene edited applications to the detriment of global food security and agricultural sustainability.