Cattle created using CRISPR Gene Editing produced by Acciligen, have been declared safe for human consumption by the FDA.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that short-haired cattle created using CRISPR gene-editing technology are safe to eat. The PRLR-SLICK calves were the first to earn an FDA “low-risk determination for enforcement discretion” after the agency found that the two genome-edited bovine’s intentional genomic alteration (IGA) does not pose any safety risks.
The cows, developed by Acciligen with climate change in mind, have a genetic feature that gives them a short, sleek coat that is supposed to assist the animals to cope better with hot temperatures. Because of the FDA’s low-risk decision, Acciligen, a “precision breeding” company, is unlikely to seek regulatory permission before releasing cattle products.
The FDA took years to evaluate the two other genetically modified animals allowed for human consumption: a faster-growing salmon and a pig that the agency found was safe for those with meat allergies to eat. The FDA highlighted that gene-editing results in the same slick-hair feature seen in cattle in conventional agriculture, therefore the review process for the CRISPR beef cattle took less than a year. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, remarked of the approval on March 7, 2022:
“We expect that our decision will encourage other developers to bring animal biotechnology products forward for the FDA’s risk determination in this rapidly developing field, paving the way for animals containing low-risk IGAs (intentional genomic alterations) to more efficiently reach the marketplace.”
According to the company website, the majority of Acceligen’s employees have agricultural backgrounds. Precision breeding, according to the company, differs from conventional breeding and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in that it permits a “highly desired trait” to be produced in “just one breeding cycle,” as opposed to years.
Acceligen, a Recombinetics Inc. firm, stated in 2020 that it had obtained a $3.68 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create bovine genetics with desirable qualities for smallholder dairy farmers in SSA dairy systems. A “suite of traits” from the breeding program’s discovery pipeline will be introduced into commercially relevant dairy animals “with high genetic merit for production and durability.” The grant’s project lead, Tad Sonstegard, CEO of Acceligen, stated of the endeavor:
“When we combine gene editing with top merit animals using advanced reproductive technologies from our partners Kheiron (Pilar, Argentina) and TransOva Genetics (Sioux Center, Iowa), we can make significant genetic improvement for well-adapted, high yielding dairy cows. Our goal is to get these animals into the hands of smallholder farmers.“
CRISPR has been used to create disease-resistant chickens and pigs, as well as mosquitos that are unable to bite or produce eggs, according to researchers. They’re also working on a number of projects, such as developing disease-resistant crops, such as grapes for winemaking. They’re also working on genetically modifying pigs so that their organs can be transplanted into people. Research is underway to bring extinct species like the passenger pigeon back to life by altering the genes of certain birds.
A 57-year-old man was on the verge of death when he received a genetically altered pig heart in January, the first between-species transplant that had been “hailed as a success” through xenotransplantation, the technique of transporting tissues between species. The individual, however, began to deteriorate roughly 40 days after the transplant, and he died two months later. “No obvious cause identified at the time of his death,” the hospital said at first. Despite this, the patient’s heart was infected with a pig virus, according to MIT Technology Review on May 4. MIT wrote on the complex process:
The biggest obstacle to animal-organ transplants is the human immune system, which ferociously attacks foreign cells in a process called rejection. To avoid rejection, companies have been engineering pigs—removing some genes and adding others—to give their tissue a stealth profile that hides from immune attack.
Transferring pig viruses to humans have been a worry—some fear xenotransplantation could set off a pandemic if a virus were to adapt inside a patient’s body and then spread to doctors and nurses. The concern could be serious enough to require lifelong monitoring for patients.
CRISPR-based therapies (which garnered considerable support from Bill Gates and others several years ago) are expected to be utilized to cure inherited disorders in the future, according to many researchers. According to Scientific America, the first clinical experiments injecting CRISPR directly into living humans began in 2020, with the goal of correcting a genetic abnormality that causes blindness.
While CRISPR “reliably cuts DNA where we want it to,” new research has proven that it can also alter genes that aren’t on the target list. Even if we could get it to operate consistently, several experts have raised ethical concerns about utilizing the technology for eugenics and “designer babies,” as SA points out. “If one-day parents can pay scientists to edit their babies’ DNA to make them stronger and smarter, CRISPR might make the world even more unequal and prejudiced,” SA said. SA claims that considering the risks of modifying the human genome, researchers are still a long way from using CRISPR in medicine on a large scale, adding:
“CRISPR has given science a tool to reliably tinker with the code of life. But the question remains: can we do so safely and ethically while avoiding the unintended consequences of such power?”
There is no definite timeline for when CRISPR cow beef will be available in US supermarkets, but it might be as soon as two years. It’s also uncertain whether the meat from gene-edited cows will be labeled differently from regular beef.