August 07, 2013

Lab-grown burger brings attention to biotechnologies

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Official Statement from the American Society of Animal Science Board of Directors

Is the new “lab-grown burger” really the future of food?

The burger, grown from beef cattle stem cells, is one example of how new technologies can help feed a growing population. Though it is unlikely that companies will produce the new “lab-grown burger” on a mass scale, the news about lab-grown meat is an opportunity to highlight more realistic advances in biotechnology. Around the world, scientists are investigating new ways to improve animal health and address food insecurity.

Stem cell culturing is one way for scientists to improve animal health and production. At the Baylor College of Medicine, researcher Mary Estes uses stem cells to grow miniature versions of animal digestive systems. These “mini-guts” show how animals respond to potentially fatal viruses. Estes hopes to use this new technology to develop treatments for disease.

At the University of Arizona, researcher Ronald Allen has shown that stem cells can also repair injured muscle. Healthy muscle growth is crucial for meat production. According to Allen, producers could use stem cell treatments to keep animals healthy and productive.

Genetic engineering is another important tool for feeding the world. By modifying genes, scientists can produce healthier animals and improve food security.

In the United Kingdom, scientists are using genetic engineering to fight avian influenza. Avian influenza has killed hundreds of people and countless chickens worldwide. Researchers have used genetic engineering to produce chickens that cannot transmit avian influenza. These chickens produce a molecule that binds to the flu virus and keeps the virus from spreading to other birds and humans.

A team of researchers in the United States has used genetic engineering to produce dairy cows resistant to a strain of bacteria that causes mastitis. Mastitis is a common infection that attacks the mammary tissue of lactating animals, including human mothers. In the U.S. dairy cow industry, mastitis causes $2 billion in lost milk yearly.

Milk from these cows might one day come to market. Mastitis-resistant cows will benefit producers and consumers, resulting in healthier and more comfortable cows and a increased supply of dairy products.

Through the use of biotechnologies, animal agriculture can continue to enhance human and animal health and provide meaningful solutions to feeding the world’s growing population.

Learn more: ASAS Grand Challenge – Animal Health

Banner photo used with permission. David Parry / PA Wire