Scott Nichols concludes his series about GM foods with a deeper dive into transgenic animals
The state of genetically engineered farm animals is not as advanced as it is for crop plants. In the United States, there are eight genetically engineered plants in commercial production but no transgenic animals. The most notable advances in transgenic animals lie outside agriculture.
Most transgenic animals are for scientific research and medicine
The first transgenic animal was a mouse developed in 1974, though it wasn’t until 1981 that three research groups produced fertile transgenic mice. Beyond being mere laboratory curiosities, rodent species have been generated that are model systems of human diseases. Amongst many diseases studied this way are cancers, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and substance abuse. These engineered mice have proven useful both for gaining fundamental understanding of diseases as well as for testing experimental treatments.
In biological research on fish, transgenic medaka (Japanese rice fish) and zebrafish are used to study developmental processes and the responses of fish to environmental contaminants.
Though outside the realm of food production, farm animals such as goats and rabbits are used for drug production. Mammals make the proteins used as pharmaceuticals in proper active forms. Microbes can also make pharmaceutical proteins but, often, those proteins are made in inactive forms.
Genetically modified animals in brief
There a pipeline of genetically engineered animals in various stages of development but only one has regulatory approval.
The single approved product is a modified Atlantic salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies. Its AquAdvantage salmon contain an introduced growth hormone gene that is active throughout the whole year. Because the native salmon growth hormone gene’s activity diminishes during winter months, AquaBounty salmon grow to market weight in markedly less time than non-engineered salmon. AquaBounty salmon has received regulatory approval in the United States and Canada but, as yet, it isn’t available for sale in either country. Read the article.