The Future of Health in GM Livestock

NETHERLANDS - In the coming years, innovation in Animal Husbandry will partially stem from knowledge on the role and functioning of hereditary material in animals.
calendar icon 2 May 2008
clock icon 3 minute read
Prof. Dr. Mari Smits

The Animal Husbandry sector can benefit from this knowledge because this knowledge can be used to improve animal health, which in turn will contribute to increase sustainability of Animal Husbandry. The above remarks were made by Prof. Dr. Mari Smits on the acceptance of his duties as professor holding a personal chair in Functional Genomics at Wageningen University on Thursday.

Insight into the functioning and the regulation of genes will strongly increase through the application of all kinds of techniques that are now becoming available, according to Prof. Smits in his inaugural address, Genes in Action. Through this, we are continually discovering more about the way in which animal traits develop; not only the animal's genes but also environmental factors play an important role in this development.

All kinds of techniques are also becoming available with which genetic differences between animals can be determined more rapidly. Smits expects to see analysis equipment on the market within three to eight years that will be able to map the entire genome of an individual animal within a few hours.

Animal Health

Smits anticipates that the knowledge in the field of functional genomics will find application in many areas including animal health. A higher degree of animal health contributes to the sustainability of the Animal Husbandry sector, which society likes to see. One of the areas where Smits sees opportunities is the development of improved vaccines.

Currently, vaccines are being developed purely on the basis of knowledge of the pathogen alone and the efficacy of these vaccines is further improved by trial and error. With a better knowledge of the role and activities of host genes during host - pathogen interactions, we get insight into the mechanisms the animal host is using to combat invading pathogens. This increased knowledge on host -pathogen interactions and the variation herein between animals, can be used in developing more effective newer generations vaccines. Additionally, the resistance of, for example, chickens against salmonella may also be increased through sophisticated breeding programmes focussing on genetic variation with an effect on the genes that play a role in the chicken's response to salmonella.

Another application of functional genomics lies, according to Smits, in the relationship between animal nutrition and animal health, i.e. nutrigenomics. He thinks that with this knowledge, the health of the animal can be influenced by nutrition.

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