Biotechnology’s the process of using living systems in order to create new organisms or to modify existing ones. This process uses the organism system as a sort of template to create new products or to modify existing products and technologies. Biotechnology’s used in various fields such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and multiple biologic fields. One of the most common applications of biotechnology’s the creation of genetically modified organisms or GMO for short.
In genetics, biotechnology’s used to manipulate the DNA of plants and animals to produce different results. This leads to new forms of the species that’s being manipulated, such as a crop that’s modified to be resistant to herbicides and the original plant which isn’t. One way biotechnology’s used to do this is by substituting certain gene sequences in an organism’s DNA, or by making it so certain genes are expressed more or depressed. For example, a gene for making a plant’s stalk can be expressive, which becomes more active so the modified plant will grow a thicker stalk.
This same process’s also used for making organisms resistant to different diseases. The modification of genes could change gene expression so the organism builds a natural defense against and is resistant to a disease. Or the disease can’t infect the organism in the first place. Gene modification’s commonly used in plants, but is also starting to be used more on animals. According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, “Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases.”
The Possibility of New Life and Its Impact on Farming
While this use of biotechnology doesn’t create a new species of organism, population procreation can result in a new variation of species over time. This creation of another variation can take generations depending on the kind of conditions and environment the population’s exposed to.
Animal species that are kept in farms are closely monitored and regulated, and kept in stable conditions. This regulation could speed up the time it takes for the new modified species to dominate the population.
Consequently, animals that are kept in farms have a higher rate of intraspecific interactions. The species can only interact with other members of its species because the possibility of an emergent infectious disease (EID) is higher. The disease that an organism is modified to resist can take over the rest of the population, increasing the chances of successful procreation and further transport of the modification. This means the modified species will become resistant to the disease thereby creating a higher quality product.
Disease Control Systems in Animal Species
Biotechnology itself isn’t always enough to control diseases in animals. Occasionally, other systems have to be in place to aid the modifications. Disease control systems in conjunction with gene modification can increase the overall effectiveness of how well the species resists disease.
Different disease control systems include preventative actions, this typically being the first line of defence. With preventative actions, the goal is to stop the problem before it starts like dikes being used in flood control. Another form of control systems is arthropod vector control. Many diseases are caused by various pests and insects that act as a transmitter of a disease; however, these species can also be modified so they no longer transmit the disease. Recent studies done on wildlife interactions have shown that “80% of the relevant animal pathogens present in the United States of America have a potential wildlife component.” So controlling how wildlife transmits disease can reduce disease in farm animals.
Other common forms of control systems include host and population control, which is mostly done by culling members of the infected population or by separating members of the population that have been modified. If the members that have been modified are culled, they may have a better chance at procreating with other modified individuals of the population. In time, this will result in a new disease resistant version of the species.
Vaccination and gene therapy are also common forms of a control system. As more of a species is vaccinated with an attenuated form of a virus, the species builds immunity. Additionally, if an organism’s genes are manipulated, the organism can become resistant to that disease. This control can be used with host and population control to further increase the population’s resistance to a disease.
All of these practices are used in farming and food production with biotechnology systems. Manipulation of animal species to be disease resistant is still a relatively new science, meaning the migration of a species to become completely disease resistant or immune hasn’t been fully researched or documented.
As we learn more about biotechnical and genetic manipulation, we increase our ability to farm healthier animals, to produce more safe food for production and we decrease the spread of disease.
Creating Disease Resistance with Genetic Selection
Members of a population that show a natural ability to resist a disease can be selectively bred so more members of the species can also exhibit those traits. This can, in turn, be used with culling so those members aren’t continually exposed to other factors and can more easily produce offspring. This type of genetic selection relies on the resistance being part of the animal’s genetic makeup.
If the animal is exposed to a virus and builds immunity through its immune system, there’s a chance that this resistance will not be passed down. This is due to normal gene randomization during procreation. In Eenennaam's and Pohlmeier's research, they state, “Through genetic selection, livestock producers can select for certain genetic variations which have been associated with disease resistance.”
Creating Disease Resistance with Genetic Modification
Members of a population can be inoculated with a specific gene sequence that results in a resistance to a specific disease. The gene sequence either replaces a specific gene sequence in the individual or makes it so a specific sequence becomes activated or deactivated.
Some tests that have been done include mastitis resistance in cows. The cows are inoculated with the lysostaphin gene, which leads to an activation of a gene sequence and increases resistance to mastitis in the cow. This is an example of transgene overexpression, meaning it can be given to the entire species since the gene sequence attaches itself to a part of the DNA that is the same for the species. DNA from different members of the same species will vary slightly, so it’s important to know that the lysostaphin gene will work for the entire species and not just one member.
Other tests include the suppression of infection pathogens in various species. In this case, the species will be inoculated with a sequence of a virus’s RNA. That sequence will insert itself into the animals RNA. When that RNA is transcribed to create certain proteins, the new gene that was inserted will now be expressed.
Biotechnology’s Impact on Modern Farming
While the act of manipulating animals to get the results we want and disease control are not new to us, the science behind how we do this has advanced drastically. With our knowledge of how genetics work, our ability to manipulate genes to produce new results and with our understanding of disease, we can achieve new levels of farming and food production.
Using a combination of disease control systems and biotechnology to modify species of animals in time can lead to a new version that is resistant or even immune to a certain disease. As members of a disease resistant population procreate, their offspring will also have the disease resistant genes in their DNA.
Animals that are resistant to disease will live healthier and better lives, will not need to get immunizations for certain diseases, and will produce better quality products for consumption. In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, being disease resistant is very beneficial since less money will go into the animals’ upkeep and products from those animals will be in better quality. Disease resistant animals will also stop the transmission of food borne diseases between animals and to humans.
With the proper long term studies on the impact of biotechnological systems, these advances can greatly improve the farming sector. More specifically, farms can be more sustainable, more productive, easier to manage and produce better products.