At the same time GM technologies are being redirected towards animal health and welfare, according to Whitelaw. The use of GM in farm species has been to-date focussed on high value products (e.g. animal bioreactors producing pharmaceuticals in milk). In the future much more effort will be applied to improve the health and welfare of animals through GM technology, with a second important topic being the generation of more appropriate animal models of human disease to enhance the development of better disease intervention strategies.
There has already been some success employing GM techniques to engineer disease resistance in animals. It is now possible to produce cattle lacking the gene that makes the prion protein responsible for BSE. Calves produced this way appear to be completely healthy, suggesting that the prion protein is not necessary, or that it has back up proteins that perform its functions. Either way, there is a real prospect of eliminating BSE from cattle livestock.
In the case of viral disease, other techniques apart from GM may be appropriate. The huge potential of RNA Interference was discussed at the conference, whereby the ability of viruses to produce the proteins they need for replication from the genetic information encoded in their RNA is blocked. This could help prevent pigs from contracting the deadly PRRSV, or chickens from getting bird flu.
But much more research is needed, and the ESF workshop helped bring together researchers with the relevant expertise in Europe. The workshop identified Europes leading position in livestock disease research, spearheaded by the Scottish Network of Excellence Development of Novel Technologies to Fight Viral Diseases in Farm Animals, which is a model for a possible Europe-wide consortium.
The ESF Exploratory Workshop on Genetic Models of Disease Resist
|Contact: Dr. Bruce Whitelaw|
European Science Foundation