Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A long road to transgenic animals

SEPTEMBER will be a hectic month for those involved in biotechnology and biosafety with two prominent international meetings – the APEC High Level Policy Dialogue (Beijing) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP7 (Pyeongchang, South Korea). Important decisions on the regulations of GMOs will be taken here.

In fact, I attended a workshop on animal biotechnology in Brasilia last month and realised that commercialising transgenic animals is a bigger challenge than putting GM crops on the table. There is much more regulatory hurdles for introducing transgenic animals than GM crops, in spite of the fact that animals can be reared in confined environment and the “gene flow” cannot happen randomly, whereby biodiversity can be threatened.

                                            Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan presenting on communication strategies at the Animal Biotechnology Workshop in Brasilia
A professor from UC Davis who is working on transgenic goat that can produce lactoferrin to treat diarrhoea in infants has been waiting for approval for more than 15 years. If this gets into the market, it will have a huge socioeconomic benefits to developing countries where Global deaths from diarrhoea of children aged less than 5 years were estimated at 1.87 million,  approximately 19% of total child deaths. 78% of this happens in Africa and South East Asia regions.

 Another case in point is the Enviropig which was genetically modified to produce the enzyme phytase to digest phytate in the feed. When phytate is digested, the phosphorus released in the manure is reduced by 50-75% which otherwise will contaminate the land and waterways. Farmers also will not have to supplement the feed with mineral phosphate or commercial phytate.

The AquAdvantage Salmon is a genetically modified Atlantic Salmon that can grow twice as fast as the wild Salmon and FDA is yet to give its green light.

There are a number of companies in the USA that are working on cloning better livestock lines but the approvals for these are not anywhere in the horizon. All these initiatives are still snagged in the workbench without regulatory approval.

I feel the USA should show some leadership in this area as the risk assessment and management is well studied and transgenic animals are so much easier to handle than crops.

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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