Agriculture This Week - Genome-edited bull fascinates with possibilities

It is sometimes strange how one thing leads to another when you write a regular column on a rather specific topic like agriculture, which I have been doing for more than three decades now.

Last week I focused on the idea the farm sector should be smiling over the prospect of what a recent science accomplishment could mean.

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It was recently reported at www.producer.com that “on Aug. 10, University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture Canada researchers said they had decoded the full genome of the black mustard plant. Black mustard is grown in India and other countries in South Asia. It’s closely related to the mustard and canola grown in Western Canada.”

With the new science as a guide I noted it may be possible to increase drought resistance, increase tolerance for saline soils, or for the plant to do a better job of nutrient absorption. It all comes down to discovering genes that make a difference, and transferring within a plant family.

Longer term transfer from unrelated crops; say alfalfa to canola, may be possible. Imagine a nitrogen fixing canola and what that would mean to the farm sector.

These things are being made more possible because transfer technology now has a map to be more efficient, and that appears to be happening which is big news for agriculture.

Flash forward a week and there is similar news coming out regarding advancements in genome mapping in the livestock sector, and what that could mean to the industry long term.

According to a story at www.producer.com, “scientists at the University of California, Davis, have successfully produced a bull calf that has been genome-edited to produce more male offspring. They did this by inserting the SRY gene into the bovine chromosome 17.”

While I readily admit the science behind the bull calf now on the ground is far beyond my understanding in terms of the details of the science, the goal of the process is much easier to grasp.

The long term goal of the research is to produce more male cattle.

It is hoped the genome-edited bull now on the ground does that.

The reason is simple economics. Males are about 15 percent more efficient at weight gain than females and they tend to be processed at a heavier weight, notes the story.

In theory a producer can market the same amount of beef with fewer animals if the percentages of calves that are born male are increased.

Conversely, one can see the dairy sector excited by the technology if through genome-editing the number of females can be ticked up as they are the key to the industry.

Again this is research in its rather early stages, and just where it might take livestock production long term is unknown, but the potential may only be as big as the visions of researchers.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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