Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

By Clet Wandui Masiga

Today the November the 23rd 2015, I attended and presented at the second biennial national agricultural biosciences conference (NABIO2015), at the school of food science, nutrition & biosystems engineering conference centre, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. My presentation title was “Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health”. Gauging from the reactions and questions from the audience, it was evident many people did not know that Genetic engineering of animals was taking place. The participants demanded to know when Uganda will bring such animal breeds. Below is the abstract of my presentation. It has also been published in the book of abstracts.

Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

CletWandui Masiga1*

 

1Tropical institute of development innovations (TRIDI), P O Box 493, Entebbe Uganda

* Corresponding author. Email: wmasiga@hotmail.com; c.masiga@tridi.org

Tel: +256 772 457155

 

Animal breeding using genetic engineering (GE) tool is the development of new breeds of animals having a specific trait to an embryo by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques. The tool has been used since its discovery in 1970s from model research species to farm enterprises for the benefit of human kind. In 1980 GE mice was developed and in 1985, GE livestock and fish were first developed and many others have followed. These GE animals are vital for meeting the world’s future demands for increasing food, making animal production competitive and also in addressing public health concerns. The objective of this study was to document the progress made in breeding livestock using genetic engineering, provide information on how it’s done, the importance of such animals, limitation for their adoption and provide perspectives on its future. A transgenic animal results from the process that involves development of the gene construct and inserting that construct into the embryo. Other GE animals are produced using other approaches like genome editing and cisgenics. These GE animals are currently used in research as disease models, biomedical field in pharmaceuticals and xenotransplantation, in industrial processes and in agricultural production. There are currently few GE animals or products from them that have been commercially released or approved for solving human demands. Key among them  include GloFish (fish), ATryn (goats), transchromosomical cattle, xenotrasplation pigs, OX513A (GE mosquito, Aedes aegypti).   In agriculture for food there is none that is on the market to date but so far the GE agricultural animals developed include cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, and fish. Specific examples include Mastitis resistant cows, pigs expressing salivary phytase, Omega-3 pigs, Mad cow resistant cows, GE chickens that don’t transmit bird flu, and fast growing salmon. Looking into the future, GE animals hold potential to revolutionize public health and agriculture. However GE animals are being resisted by environmentalists and organic farmer advocates based on precautionary principle and for unknown safety risks to humans, biodiversity and the environment. These environmentalists and organic farmer and their consumers have influenced enactment of strict regulatory regimes that makes it difficult to commercialize GE animals. GE animals will not alone solve the world’s future animal demands for food and health issues but the resistance to use this technology is immoral and unethical. Resistance is based mainly on consumer preferences of rich populations and not those of the farmers and in areas where the technologies are really needed. In conclusion GE is a new breeding/production technology which may need a revision of current regulatory definitions to investigate risk based on the characteristics of its products rather than the breeding technology.

 

 

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My personal story on involvement in GMO promotion

My name is Clet Wandui Masiga and I am a Conservation Biologist, Geneticist, and farm entrepreneur from Uganda. Currently I work as a research scientist at the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) and am a Cornell Alliance for Science Fellow. My wife Sylvia and I have four sons. She is a social worker and an administrator with an organization that provides food supplements to families that are suffering from malnutrition.

My involvement in promoting for access to biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) evolved naturally when I started my career. I have worked as a teacher, as an extension officer, and I continue to practice as a researcher and development worker as well as a part time farmer with my wife. We started farming because we wanted other farmers who were not exposed and were not knowledgeable to learn from us, in order to also do the same to improve their productivity.

As a conservationist and Geneticist I had learned about the evolution of breeding techniques and origin of domestications of plants and animals. I had also been trained in sustainable conservation and utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. I spent part of my life working in a genebank in the UK, which involved going out to the field and collecting plants for conservation and researching on them to benefit farmers and breeders.

When I returned to Uganda in January 2009, I decided to concentrate on my farm; however, that year there was a lot of drought. My tomatoes and Maize were completely lost, and my cassava was destroyed by cassava brown streak disease. We lost all our investments and in the same period my dad succumbed to cancer of the esophagus and passed on. I decided to seek employment first to earn a living, but most importantly I wanted a job that could help me develop new crop varieties in response to some of the challenges that I had faced as a farmer. That year, people in Uganda died due to lack of food from the drought; I thought God had failed my crops so I could help farmers.

I’ve been fortunate in that all my biotechnology and breeding work had been done under public institutions. We developed GM maize and Sorghum for drought tolerance and cassava for resistance to cassava brown streak disease resistance under National agricultural research Institutes. All the other biotechnological approaches that we used such as Marker Assisted Breeding, tissue culture, conservation biotechnology and gene mapping and isolation of genes were also under public institution. I have also developed non-GM sorghum lines for drought tolerance and striga resistance under my private organization, but the varieties are yet to be released.

While we were busy working on solving farmer’s problems, some people kept writing misinformation about GMOs and their promoters in newspapers. I also listen to misinformation on TVs and Radio talk shows. This is the time I decided that I should start providing first hand information on GMOs, since I was also developing them. I had an advantage in that I was not only developing GMOs but I was also using other approaches to solve farmer’s problems. I believe in integrated approaches and an approach that delivers a solution is acceptable to me.

One of my biggest challenges has been my fellow scientists who have chosen to ignore debating with anti-GMO activists. This has provided a platform for the anti-GMO activists to continue misinforming the public and denying farmers the technologies that they need most. I believe that unless we get out of the laboratories and talk to the population, our farmers will continue to suffer due to misinformation. Every field is using scientific innovation to advance and there should be no exception in plant breeding.

 

Clet Wandui Masiga

Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur.