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Gene Editing in Livestock: Prospects and Policy

Speaker Name: 
Alison Van Eenennaam
Speaker Title: 
Department of Animal Science, University of California, Davis
Start Time: 
Monday, January 27, 2020 - 11:00am
End Time: 
Monday, January 27, 2020 - 12:00pm
Biomed 200



Animal breeders have made incredible genetic progress by selecting animals with desirable traits as parents of the next generation. Remarkably, this selective breeding, or artificial selection, was historically accomplished based solely on outward appearances (phenotypes), without understanding which genes influence particular characteristics. Advances in technology, including artificial insemination and embryo transfer have provided further tools for breeders to maximize the genetic contributions of highly productive animals. Genetic engineering and genome editing go a step further, allowing breeders to introduce useful genetic variations, thereby increasing the genetic variability available in selection candidates. Although genetically engineered livestock were first reported in the 1980s, only three biomedical applications (ATryn®, Ruconest®, Kanuma®) and one food animal application (AquAdvantage® salmon) have been brought to market. The initial promise of this technology was hampered by low efficiency, random site integration, public resistance and regulatory hurdles. Gene editing has made it possible to precisely target changes in livestock genomes, overcoming previous challenges. Such targeted changes may include the repair of genetic defects, the inactivation of undesired genes, and the introgression of useful alleles and haplotypes between breeds in the absence of linkage drag. Examples include disease-resistant pigs, hornless dairy cows, heat-tolerant cattle, and single gender (all-female) layer hens. The extent to which any of these applications are utilized beyond research laboratories will depend upon regulatory frameworks, uptake by livestock producers and industry, and public acceptance. In 2017 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced their intent to regulate “intentional modifications” of animal genomes introduced by editing as animal drugs, irrespective of the novelty of the genomic alteration or any risk posed by the product. Sustainability goal conflicts will likely continue between genetic innovations being used to address problems like animal disease and welfare, and proposed regulatory approaches to the use of modern biotechnologies in livestock breeding programs. The early applications that successfully navigate regulatory hurdles will influence the public discussion around gene edited animals and likely impact the trajectory of future applications.



Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam is a Cooperative Extension Specialist in the field of Animal Genomics and Biotechnology in the Department of Animal Science at University of California, Davis. She received a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and both an MS in Animal Science, and a PhD in Genetics from UC Davis. Her publicly-funded research and outreach program focuses on the use of animal genomics and biotechnology in livestock production systems. Her current research projects include the development of genome editing approaches for cattle. She serves as the bovine genome coordinator for the USDA National Animal Genome Research Program, served as a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) Study Committee for “Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research”, and is an elected Fellow and current chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Agriculture, Food, and Renewable Resources Section O. She has given over 650 invited presentations to audiences globally, and uses a variety of media to inform general public audiences about science and technology. She frequently provides a credentialed voice on controversial scientific topics, and has appeared on national media including The Dr Oz Show, NPR, Science Friday, and the Intelligence Squared debate series. She appeared in the 2017 documentary “Food Evolution” narrated by science-communicator Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. A passionate advocate of science, Dr. Van Eenennaam was the recipient of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) 2010 National Award for Excellence in Extension, American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) 2014 National Extension Award, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) 2014 Borlaug Communication Award, University of California – Davis 2019 James H.Meyer Distinguished Career Achievement Award, and ASAS 2019 Rockefeller Prentice Award in Animal Breeding and Genetics. 

Host: Beth Shapiro 

To accommodate a disability, please contact Ben Coffey at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute (, 831-459-1477).

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