The Canadian AI firm Semex has announced a relationship with a gene editing company that will allow its bulls in the future to result from high merit embryos genetically edited for the polled gene. Offspring sired by those bulls will be naturally polled, thereby eliminating the need for dairy managers to carry out the unpleasant chore of de-horning the resulting heifer calves.
Dairy cattle breeders themselves know that currently the homozygous polled gene is not typically found in a breed’s top genetics for production, type or health traits. This approach will allow the polled gene to be substituted for the conventional horned trait in a breed’s elite genetics, eliminating the “genetic drag” which is occurring today using our more traditional breeding techniques.
The technology is being delivered by Recombinetics, based in St. Paul, Minn. Dr. Tad Sonstegard, chief scientific officer of Acceligen, the agricultural division of the firm, states, “We have proven we can safely introduce the polled trait into any breed of horned dairy cattle with complete precision. The new partnership will provide unique opportunities for dairy farmers and AI companies to introduce polled genetics without losing genetic diversity or production potential.”
The process will need to be approved by the regulators within country before semen will be sold from these bulls. Dr. Sonstegard explains to DairyBusiness that approval in Canada is based on the novelty of the food produced from an edited animal. No one has tested the approval processes with food from animals bred using new breeding techniques.
“We will follow the process of this system and get a determination if food products [milk and meat] from our polled animals are novel or not. We expect that this decision will be determined by the regulators in the Canadian system, using the information we provide in our application about our precision bred animals.” Discussions also are ongoing with regulators in the U.S.
Speaking with DairyBusiness, Dr. Michael Lohuis, vice president of research & innovation at Semex, said that the whole food chain will need to weigh in on this innovative technology, knowing consumers have an interest in animal well-being. Retailers and processors will be involved, even as the benefit is clear to most dairy producers. He predicted dairymen will find the polled trait desirable but will not want to give up any other traits in the process. He said he hopes lessons can be learned from the crop industry. He said ultimately consumers will need to see the value and that scientists can be (viewed as being ??) biased towards new technology.
Dr. Sonstegard concurs, adding disease resistance for TB, ticks, parasites and viral infections (and heat tolerance) are still in our discovery pipeline and the focus of research by many other scientists in the field.
Further, both organizations confirm that this alliance is not exclusive with Semex in dairy genetics. Dr. Lohuis said Semex can be a technology provider in the IVF process.
Dr. Sonstegard states, “We cannot disclose what other organizations we are negotiating with at this time, but we have engaged with numerous organizations and private producers of germplasm for the global dairy genetics industry.”