Genetically modifying animals has never sat very comfortably on my conscience. I’ve just come across an article that has done much to change my mind. A professor with family roots in the Cameroon, is leading pioneering science to genetically modify livestock to survive adverse conditions in poorer parts of the world.
According to a science item on the BBC News in February, Prof Djikeng was raised in Africa as the son of a pig farmer. One year, due to African swine fever, his father had no pigs to sell and the family were pressed to find the money to continue educating their children. The Professor understands first hand how vulnerable these families are when their livestock fails to thrive, and so he and his team are focusing on genetically modifying animals that are resistant to types of disease that can affect whole communities.
Dairy cows are prone to a reduced milk yield in hot weather due to a condition called heat stress. They use limited water to reduce their body temperature at the expense of milk production. A gene has been identified in a breed of cattle in The Virgin Islands that give them a slick, sparse coat, which means that they cope better with heat and suffer less from heat stress. By transferring this gene to milk producing breeds, it is suggested that the cows will be more able to control their body temperature in hot climates and so have a more stable milk production.
Research is also under way to genetically modify other livestock, such as chickens, to make them more resilient to parasites and disease. Whereas genetically modified animals have often been met with quite justifiable opposition, it does seem to me to be much more beneficial to help small farmers in parts of the world where food can be scarce. The ethics of such genetic modification sits much more comfortably with me than the ‘mass production farming with profit as the priority’ spin that is usually accompanying such research.