Editing Livestock Genomes: Harnessing and Expanding Genomic Diversity Simon Lillico, Bruce Whitelaw* University of Edinburgh, The Roslin Institute, Midlothian, Scotland, UK
Man has been breeding animals for millennia, initially on behavioural characteristics, then visual traits and very recently by selection based on genetic tools. Selective breeding exploits the variation that exists within a population of animals, capturing beneficial genotypes to deliver genetic improvement to that population. This process relies on the presence or spontaneous appearance of the desired genetic variation in the target breeding gene pool. If the genetic variation does not exist in a given breeding population then it cannot be selected. Neither has it been possible to exploit potentially beneficial variation from other species or other genera because of mating barriers. The recent development of genome editing technology now enables the use of genetic variation that is not present within a given breeding population. Genome editors are engineered nucleases that direct double-strand breaks to specific target DNA sequences. These tools enable production of desirable mutations in a site-specific manner in the genome. We can now achieve in a single-generation, introgression of a desired haplotype, even from another species, without introducing other unwanted DNA sequences. We are no longer constrained by variation that exists within a population. Genome editing technologies are re-invigorating how academia and industry view the genetic engineering of animals offering unprecedented opportunities for agriculture. I will discuss initial applications of this technology addressing farm animal health and productivity.
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