Transgenics: A broader application
February 24, 2020

This past week’s ACES 399 seminar presentation by Dr. Matthew Wheeler, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, delved into the world of transgenic animals. While it sounds revolutionary, this science has actually existed for years. There are many practical applications of this type of technology that could solve different current issues.

One example is knocking out the expression of unwanted genes. These unwanted genes may lead to problematic traits, such as the African swine fever virus that runs rampant in the swine industry in China and has wiped out nearly half of the pigs there. By being able to knock out genes like these, various issues could be controlled.

Another application of this technology is in modifying milk to produce various substances. One example of this is genetically modified goats that are able to secrete a malaria vaccine in their milk. These goats could then be sent to isolated areas where malaria is a major risk. A similar process could be carried out for other deadly diseases in various locations.

Milk could also be modified in other ways. For example, the proteins that control stiffness in milk can be manipulated so that milk could resemble cheese or ice cream without actually having to use cream. Modifications like this could have positive implications for health issues that arise from consuming too many fatty foods.

However, there are also applications of transgenics that go well beyond food and agriculture. With the creation of enzymes that digest paper and tires, which largely are not reused or recycled and take up space in growing landfills, some of this waste could basically disappear. Spider silk, which spiders use to spin their intricate webs, is a very strong material and could be used to produce many different things, such as rubber-like products and sutures.

The field of transgenics holds many promising uses for the future, and it will be exciting to see how it can play a role in human health, agriculture, and sustainability issues.

Students in ACES 399: “Vision 2050 –Grand Challenges of the Millenium” attend presentations by ACES faculty members about current topics in agriculture. As part of their class assignments, students are asked to write blog posts reflecting on those topics. The Voices of ACES blog will feature select ACES 399 blog posts throughout the semester.