Monday, October 19, 2015

Genetic engineers trying to create hornless cows

Scientists in Minnesota are attempting to genetically create hornless cows, "a development that supporters say could improve cow well-being in the dairy industry," Amanda Proscia reports for Great Lakes Echo, a project of the journalism department at Michigan State University. Supporters say genetic altering would "eliminate the need for painful removal of horns from young calves. But some critics say the technique is just a high-tech way to continue miserable conditions for cows on large-scale farms."

Scientists at Recombinetics say their "technique introduces no 'foreign' DNA to the cow," Proscia writes. "Instead, researchers copy the DNA of polled or hornless cattle that resulted from a genetic mutation." Mark Walton, chief marketing officer for Recombinetics, told Proscia, "Our method exactly replicates the DNA of these cattle. Two to three percent of dairy cattle already carry the same version of that gene.” He said that "since some cattle already carry the gene, Recombinetics’ process is a kind of accelerated selective breeding technique."

"Calves are often dehorned with hot-irons or a chemical paste," Proscia writes. "In the hot-irons method, the farmer or veterinarian performing the procedure heats the donut-shaped irons and then places them over the horn nubs. The heat cauterizes the horns and prevents further growth. In the other method, a chemical paste is applied to the horn nubs and causes a chemical burn that destroys horn-producing cells and stunts the horn growth." (Read more)

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