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10 July 2017

Scientists Looking to Genetically Engineer Cows to be Heat-Resistant

Adapting to climate change is something every species on the planet is going to have to do if they want to survive the growing global temperatures.

Some breeds of cow have been identified as particularly vulnerable to the changing climate, with the heat leading to a decline in the efficiency and quality of agriculture because the animals are struggling to cope. Dr Rachel Mateescu of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) stated that:

“Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change.”

A new proposal by scientists from the UF/IFAS has recently been approved alongside a federal grant of $733,000 to try and devise a way to genetically engineer cows to be more heat resistant in worsening temperatures.

Their initial focus is on the Brangus cow, a cross between an Angus and a Brahman, which is one of the breeds that’s actually effective at regulating its body temperature. The hope is that by pinpointing what it is about the Brangus that makes it so good at this regulation, they will be able to introduce that ability to other breeds through the use of gene editing tools. If this were to be successful, more cows would be able to cope in hotter temperatures and continue to produce quality meat despite the changing climate.

“In-depth knowledge of the genomic variants with major effect on thermal regulation and the maturation of technologies for gene editing means that thermotolerance genes can be rapidly introduced into thermally sensitive breeds,”Mateescu said of their research. “Development of effective strategies to improve the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.”

The fact that this plan has been given the go ahead is an indication that the climate is changing at a substantial rate, but also that gene editing software is a great deal more advanced than most people may realise. 
Although trying to tackle the consequences of global warming rather than fighting against it should not be the priority while there is still a chance to turn things around, the potential to adapt to the inevitable rise in temperature is still an important thing to consider in the here and now.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.