UF Researchers Want to Genetically Engineer Cows to Resist Global Warming

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Recently an ambitious plan to make cows more resistant to the increased temperatures associated with global warming was proposed by The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The proposal was approved and given a three-year $730,000 federal grant.

The aim of the University of Florida team is to increase the efficiency of meat production, despite the changing climate, while retaining the same quality of meat cows provide. To accomplish this, researchers are first looking at cows which can already resist heat fairly well. The Brangus cow is a hearty breed which is able to withstand higher temperatures than other breeds of cattle, and the researchers will study how the cows regulate their body temperature. After research is done, a gene editing tool could be used to give that superior body temperature regulation to other breeds.

Associate professor at UF/IFAS in the Department of Animal Sciences Dr. Rachel Mateescu had this to say about the project:

“Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change […] the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.”

There are two different takeaways from this study. The first is that the climate is changing incredibly fast and the second is the potential applications of gene editing technology. Climate change is having an impact on the genetics of species on earth (humans included), altering entire ecosystems and forcing species to either adapt or perish. Gene editing technologies could play a role in saving certain species who are critically threatened by climate change.

The project will also be notable for its role as a proving ground for CRISPR/Cas-9 genome editing technology.

It seems more pragmatic to reduce the impact of global warming rather than try to engineer systems to deal with the consequences of climate change, however, the future is enough in doubt that scientists and researchers are beginning to take approaches like this seriously.