“Gene editing is a much more precise approach than conventional breeding,” said Dr. Van Eenennaam. “With conventional breeding, we pretty much hope for the best in terms that the bull is going to bring genetic superiority in his offspring. Gene editing allows us to be much more precise—turning off a specific gene that makes an animal susceptible to disease, for example.”
It’s all about improving the health, performance and productivity of the animal. “Whether we do it by mating a good bull with a cow, using genomic selection or using genome editors, all we’re trying to do is introduce useful genetic variations that give us the characteristics we want in our production animals,” she added.
Dr. Van Eenennaam notes that genetic improvement is a key driver in the sustainability of animal agriculture. “The environmental impact of producing a glass of milk today is about one-third of what it was in the 1940s. That is because, although the number of U.S. dairy cows has decreased from 26 million to 9 million, the yield per cow has increased and hence milk production has almost doubled. That’s why genetics is a critically important component of sustainability.”