No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: Researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences really are trying to genetic engineer heat-resistant cows of the future — and they received a three-year, $733,000 federal grant to help them achieve their goal.
The project involves the use of genomic tools to produce a new kind of bovine that has the ability to adapt to live in hot weather, while also producing top-quality beef in the process.
“Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change,” Dr. Raluca Mateescu, an associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of animal sciences, told Digital Trends. “Development of effective strategies to improve the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.”
For their research, University of Florida researchers will be studying the Brangus cow, a mix between an Angus and a Brahman that is good at thriving in warm climates. They aim to pinpoint the DNA segments from the breed, and its Angus and Brahman forefathers, that let it so effectively regulate its body temperature. This will then open up new possibilities, thanks to the wonder of gene-editing technology.
“The main goal is to discover genetic variants responsible for thermal tolerance, and use this knowledge to develop genomic tools to improve thermal tolerance in cattle populations at risk of exposure to heat stress,” Mateescu said. “In-depth knowledge of the genomic variants with major effect on thermal regulation and the maturation of technologies for gene editing means that thermotolerance genes can be rapidly introduced into thermally sensitive breeds such as Angus, Simmental, and Holstein to allow producers to exploit genetic lines of cattle selected for high productivity with minimal disruption by heat stress.”
Should all go according to plan, it should not be too long before gene-editing technologies bring a whole new crop of superior heat-resistant cows to pastures around the U.S.