"Boys Only": a CRISPR research project to produce only male cattle



Australian geneticist, Alison Van Eenennaam, works at California University and is a keen advocate of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and genetic changes using CRISPR. Her work focuses on cattle. In particular, she has contributed to studies investigating genetic changes in dairy cows in order to remove their horns.

 

In a new "Boys Only" project, her team has succeeded in adding the SRY gene to bovine skin. This DNA fragment carried by the Y chromosome plays a key role in the development of male characteristics. Her aim is to create a bull that will father only male offspring or young with two X chromosomes as well as the SRY gene. According to the geneticist, this approach would generate more animals producing more meat, more quickly. Her research has been funded by a US Department of Agriculture. Finance was granted in order to find ways of sterilising genetically modified organisms to prevent their genetic modifications from spreading to wild relatives. This is a kind of "genetic confinement" referred to by the scientist as "terminator technology". Her next step is the genetic modification of bovine embryos. If she does not succeed with this, she will use the cloning technique with genetically modified bovine skin cells.

 

The scientist encountered regulatory opposition on endeavouring to expand her work. Since January 2017, the FDA has treated genetically modified animals "as if they were new drugs, requiring costly and elaborate safety studies". Supported by a number of companies, Alison Van Eenennaam intends to put pressure on the Trump administration to relax the ruling. This decision could be just around the corner since Donald Trump announced this week his desire to "streamline regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate, thrive and grow".


Sources: 

MIT technology review, Andrew Rosenblum (10/01/2018)