Scientists genetically modify cows to have gray patches in a bid to save them from climate change 


Scientists genetically modify cows to have gray patches instead of black in a bid to save them from climate change

  • Scientists designed a gene editing method to save cows from climate change 
  • The team eliminated the gene that causes black patches on the cow’s coat
  • Three cows that were modified were born with gray marks instead 
  • The gray color absorbs less heat and helps keep the cows from being stressed 

Scientists are genetically modifying dairy cows in a bid to save them from climate change.

A team from New Zealand is using CRISPR genome editing to create cows with gray patches instead of black, which would decrease the amount of heat the animal absorbs while in pasture.

The gene mutation was conducted in fetal skin cells from a male Holstein Friesian, a dairy cow, which was being grown in a petri dish.

Researchers successfully eliminated the pre-melanosomal protein 17 gene, which causes the black coloring, and produced in ‘a strong color dilution effect’ of a gray and white coat.

A team from New Zealand is using CRISPR genome editing to create cows with gray patches instead of black, which would decrease the amount of heat the animal absorbs while in pasture

A team from New Zealand is using CRISPR genome editing to create cows with gray patches instead of black, which would decrease the amount of heat the animal absorbs while in pasture

‘Compared to a light coat color, black absorbs more solar radiation translating into radiative heat gain which is a contributing factor to heat stress in cattle, negatively impacting on their production levels, fertility and welfare,’ reads the study published in biorxiv.

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‘To better adapt dairy cattle to the rapidly changing climatic conditions with predictions for more frequent and prolonged hot temperature patterns, we aimed to lighten their coat color by genome editing.’

Heat stress among dairy cows is, according to experts, is one of the leading causes of decreased production and fertility during the summer months.

The animals thrive in temperatures between 25 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but anything above 80 degrees and the cattle reduce their food intake – resulting in less milk production.

The gene mutation was conducted in fetal skin cells from a male Holstein Friesian, a dairy cow, which was being grown in a petri dish. Researchers successfully eliminated the pre-melanosomal protein 17 gene, which causes the black coloring, and produced in ‘a strong color dilution effect’ of a gray and white coat

The gene mutation was conducted in fetal skin cells from a male Holstein Friesian, a dairy cow, which was being grown in a petri dish. Researchers successfully eliminated the pre-melanosomal protein 17 gene, which causes the black coloring, and produced in ‘a strong color dilution effect’ of a gray and white coat

And as the summers are becoming even warmer, a team from New Zealand is looking to help these animals beat the heat.

They used a cloning method to create embryos set to be genetically modified and applied the gRNA/Cas9-mediation, the CRISPR tool, to mutate the pre-melanosomal (PMEL) gene.

‘After seven days in vitro culture single embryos were non-surgically transferred to synchronized recipient cows for development to term,’ according to the study.

Once the three calves were born, the team confirmed that what should have been black was silvery gray markings – and ‘white areas remained unaffected.’

The team also determined that the calves showed no signs of potential off-target mutations – meaning the gene editing did not harm them in any way.

And although the study looked at dairy cows, researchers believe the same method can be applied to beef breeds such as Black Angus cattle.

‘Projected onto a global scale, even modest improvements of eco-productivity from color-diluted cattle would translate into substantial environmental benefits,’ the study reads.

‘Overall, our study exemplified and validated genome editing as a promising new approach for the rapid adaptation of livestock to changing environmental conditions.’



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