In a series of European and global initiatives, an
array of new technologies, including genetic modification (GM) and RNA
Interference, are now being deployed to improve the health of farm animals.
At a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF),
the ground was laid for a European platform to develop new treatments that
exploit these technologies. Interlocking themes were highlighted underlying the
debate over livestock disease research, following a series of high profile
epidemics and pandemics over the last two decades, including bird flu, coupled
with the public relations problems facing GM technologies.
Restore confidence in GM technology
It has been reported that under the banner of GM it is clear that have the
potential to provide disease resistance with huge benefits for human health,
animal welfare, and the agricultural sector, but only if public confidence can
A major issue with GM was that it was deployed too soon with inefficient,
inaccurate technology, and often for the wrong reasons, to benefit farmers and
pharmaceutical companies rather than consumers. But the technical limitations
are being overcome through new methods highlighted at the ESF workshop.
At the same time GM technologies are being redirected towards animal health
and welfare. â€œThe use of GM in farm species has been to-date focussed on high
value products (e.g. animal bioreactors producing pharmaceuticals in milk). In
the future much more effort will be applied to improve the health and welfare of
animals through GM technology, with a second important topic being the
generation of more appropriate animal models of human disease to enhance the
development of better disease intervention strategies,â€ said Bruce Whitelaw,
Head of Developmental Biology at the Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of
Veterinary Studies, Scotland.
There has already been some success employing GM techniques to engineer
disease resistance in animals. In the case of viral disease, however, other
techniques apart from GM may be appropriate, such as the huge potential of RNA
Interference, which was discussed at the conference. Here, the ability of
viruses to produce the proteins they need for replication from the genetic
information encoded in their RNA is blocked. This could help prevent chickens
contracting bird flu.