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Agricultural Biotechnology: History, Science, and Society (October 2013): Animal Biotechnology

By Brian R. Shmaefsky

Animal Biotechnology

The number and diversity of genetically modified agricultural animals currently lags behind the variety of biotechnology-derived crops.  At first, similar methods for genetically modifying plants were refined to genetically produce laboratory animals as models for use in agriculture and medicine.  Designer Animals: Mapping the Issues in Animal Biotechnology, edited by Conrad Brunk and Sarah Hartley, describes the history and rationale of biotechnology-derived animal production.  In addition, the book explains how economic decisions drive the research-and-development direction of the field.  For example, most of the earlier agricultural work focused on producing highly profitable food animals.  As discussed in the book, the success rate and associated cost-benefit factors of producing biotechnology animals limit its competitiveness with traditional animal agriculture methods.

Advances in Animal Breeding Biotechnology, edited by Kareem Qureshi, and Animal Cloning: The Science of Nuclear Transfer by Joseph Panno look at the earlier efforts that improved the breeding of biotechnology animals through advances in artificial fertilization and embryo modification, including embryonic cloning.  Animal Biotechnology: Models in Discovery and Translation, edited by Ashish Verma and Anchal Singh, explains the laboratory details of the animal biotechnology efforts.  The unique analytical methods, cell culture techniques, and DNA technologies characteristic of animal biotechnology are described in this book as well as in Ralf Pörtner’s Animal Cell Biotechnology: Methods and Protocols and Geoffrey Becker’s Biotechnology in Animal Agriculture: Status and Current Issues.

Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns by the National Research Council provides a useful global perspective of the field.  Other books, such as Animal Biotechnology: Mapping of Organisms by Virendra Gomase and Madhur Murti and Modern Animal Biotechnology by Ashish Verma and Anchal Singh, give examples of biotechnology animals and the science and issues associated with their development and use.  The latter book covers transgenic animals, including transgenic commercial fish and livestock.  Both books also discuss genetically modified traits introduced into cattle, chicken, goats, and pigs.  The characteristics that are modified typically affect breeding efficiency, disease resistance, growth rates, and muscle mass.

Readers will enjoy the entertaining perspective of the science of creating biotechnology animals found in A Brand New Bird: How Two Amateur Scientists Created the First Genetically Engineered Animal by Tim Birkhead.  The book provides an account of a high school teacher, Hans Duncker, and a shopkeeper, Karl Reich, who developed a new bird called the red canary in Germany during the 1920s.  They pushed the limits of genetics knowledge to create a bird that would otherwise be produced easily using modern genetic engineering.  They developed a paradigm that expanded the capabilities of selective breeding and initiated the motivation to produce transgenic animals, which contain the genes from unrelated organisms, and chimeric animals, which are composed of mixtures of cells or tissues from two or more different organisms.