ANIMAL BIOTECHNOLOGY FOR THE DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: APPLICATIONS, RISKS AND ETHICS TO BE CONSIDERED
In majority of the developing countries, the application of biotechnology associated to livestock has to be appropriate for the animal owners who lack resources and who have small land and few animals. Livestock is becoming highly necessary for the developing countries in terms of economic growth, healthy life style and socio-economic objectives. Livestock production is collaborated with technology for viable agriculture. Livestock is an integral part of the ecosystem and is an abundant source of animal biodiversity since local breeds have genes and characteristics that are of great value. Molecular markers are used to a great extent to determine and choose certain genes having desired characteristics and to spread its use in artificial insemination, embryo transfer and various other reproductive methods. These technologies are used extensively in genetic enhancement of the livestock such as in cattle and buffaloes. Presently, biotechnology is utilized for the production of vaccines and diagnostic kits. However, in the absence of proper foundation, inappropriate manpower, inadequate funding to farmers and lacking of available resources, still there is lot gap in the field. In spite of having many advantages, there are several risk factors and ethical issues to be considered in genetically modifying animals for human consumption and animal welfare. This paper deals with the problems faced by the developing countries, applications of animal biotechnology to overcome these problems, risks involved and ethical principles to be considered.
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Biotechnology is considered to be necessary for the human survival and as a tool that will enhance the quality of life of the people in the world . Genomics and biotechnology has a huge ability to combat diseases that mostly affect the world’s poorest population . Although biotechnology is assumed to elevate the life of the person in the world and allow a more comfortable living, commercial considerations and socioeconomic goals that are believed by the society are very important . Animal biotechnology “is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing or production of materials by animals or aquatic species to provide goods and services”. The production of livestock is expanding when compared to any other sector and by the year 2020, the livestock is supposed to become the most significant agricultural sector. The application of biotechnology in this sector will direct to a positive shift in the economic returns from livestock. 43% of the agricultural production is through the production of livestock where more than half of the agricultural yield is from the livestock of the developed countries and one third is from the developing countries.
PROBLEMS FACED BY THE DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Advantages of biotechnology have only reached the developed countries, with billions in the poor countries largely excluded from these benefits. The practice of using the molecular biotechnologies and the novel breeding principles to the livestock animals by the developing countries is constrained by various factors. Dearth, malnutrition, inadequate hygiene and unemployment are common in the developing countries and techniques related to biotechnology have to be applied under these circumstances. Green revolution has been effective for farmers who have land but farmers who do not have land exist only on livestock and they have been condemned and remained poor. I think developing countries should be able to extend these techniques with the help of government agencies which would help improve their quality of life and living by considering the ethical, social and environmental issues into account.
In developing economics, the livestock has become very necessary for the expansion of agriculture. The quest for the products from livestock is the function of income and continuous improvement in the per capita income, increasing urban population and the alterations in the lifestyle and diet are improving the growth in production of livestock.
By increasing the income and employment and by depreciating the rural poverty, the production of livestock leads to socioeconomic development. The function of livestock is not only to provide food and nutrition but also acts as a supply in draught power and organic manure. Therefore livestock is necessary source of income and address the unemployment issue. This helps in reducing the poverty and scatters the income among the rural population that constitutes small landholders and a most of the livestock owners. During unfavorable environments, livestock can be reverted into cash and therefore can be used during crop failure.
IMPORTANCE OF TECHNOLOGY
Animal biotechnology has various uses. Transgenic animals with improved growth rates, improved lean muscle mass, greater resistance to disease have been produced ever since the early 1980s . Genetic content of animals such as poultry, swine, goats and cattle have been modified so that they produce more amounts of human proteins in eggs, milk, blood and urine which helps in making of human pharmaceuticals. This therapeutics contains proteins required for humans such as enzymes, clotting factors, albumin and antibodies. Cows are genetically modified by injecting a bacterium containing growth hormone called bovine somatotropin (BST) to increase the milk production rate by 10 to 15 percent.
Considerable number of genes and desired traits has been discovered in the livestock of Africa and Asia. Examples of such breeds from these continents are significant in the global level such as, buffaloes that yield milk with more amounts of fat and with greater quality of protein necessary for the production of mozzarella cheese, goats from cold countries that generate pashmina and toos- slender varieties of wool, Black Bengal goats that bear genes for high productivity, Garole sheep that bear genes for twinning and sheep’s, camels and goats that are tolerant to tropical arid environment and can sustain feed with high lignin composition. Milk, meat and eggs production and the nutritional value, prevention of diseases and healthcare has been improved for these products through the use of biotechnology. Biotechnology is a new developing tool for the growth of agricultural technologies.
The greater profit of agricultural research and technology is that the poor can buy the products easily since both the average incomes and the use of these food products are improved . The improvement in the production of livestock has called for an increased value of land, labor and goods and services of non-agricultural origin therefore improving the overall growth in the economy. The rural population spends nearly greater part of their additional income on food. Therefore biotechnology can be applied to livestock production which leads to a greater nutritional significance in case the technology is aimed at the poorest producers. However, “commercialization of agriculture” has depleted the nutritional security of the rural population.
APPLICATIONS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
There are many technologies that have been evolved to the livestock of both developing and developed countries. However, the large scale technologies that are efficiently utilized in the production of livestock in the developing countries comprises of protecting the animal genetic resources, enhancing reproduction, embryo transfer (ET), detecting and reducing diseases and increasing the nutrition value.
Gene related technologies have the tendency to boost the ability for the production of livestock thereby assuring larger profits for the farmers . “The global adaption of genetically modified (GM) crops, which were grown on 67.7 million hectares in 2003 compared with 2.8 million hectares in 1996, has had a greater impact on livestock feed. It is estimated that the United States of America, Argentina, Canada, Brazil and the People’s Republic of China have 63%. 21%, 6%, 4% and 4% respectively, of the global transgenic acreage and that the most frequently grown crops are GM soybean (61%), maize (23%), cotton (11%) and canola (5%)”.
Although research in medical field requires the use of transgenic animals such as mice, GM animals have not yet been discharged into the farms . The progress in the genetic alteration of the livestock is very slow when compared to the genetic alteration of crops for a wide range of reasons that include high costs, inappropriate gene transfer techniques and small reproductive rates of animals. Recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques contribute to the expression of desires genes, to suppress the expression of unwanted genes, to modify certain genes to obstruct certain pathways. It was determined that approximately 30 enzymes are produced from GM bacteria, yeasts and moulds that are commercially available and most of these enzymes are utilized in the food industry.
Milk produced from transgenic cattle has the ability to improve the production of some proteins or growth factors and this improved quality in the nutrient and therapeutic content in the composition of milk may have a greater impact on the development and the survival of the newborn humans and animals. This transgenic alteration in the milk will lead to a greater utilization of milk and milk products in the fields of both agriculture and medicine. By improving the composition of the proteins in milk or developing a new protein in the milk is a “value added” opportunity for transgenic agriculture.
Nuclear cloning is the process of creating new animals by introducing somatic nuclei into an unfertilized oocyte . In other words it is the process in which one single DNA molecule can give rise to an entire organism . Even though it was started in fishes to know the nuclear totipotency, it was extended for higher organisms like sheep where Dolly was the first cloned mammal. Genetically modified nuclear transfusion can play a better role in cloning with desired characteristics. Since it is a cell medicated transfer addition and deletion of the specific gene can be done depending on the gene of interest that is to be produced. Cloning can be used in preservation of indigenous breeds of global zoo pool which are adapted to a local environment. Multiplication can be done rapidly which give uniform clones. This technology can be used as a therapeutic agent for several diseases like diseases like diabetes, spinal disorders and tissue damage by using the transplanted cells to replace the damaged tissue or using stem cells to differentiate into the specific cells of interest. Cloned animals can be used as research models which give identical twins that have same pathway for their physiological activities rather than using animals with more genetic variability. It improves the quality and quantity of food products produced and also produces several disease resistant plants that reduce pollution indirectly.
3. Artificial insemination (AI)
Artificial insemination (AI) is a method by which sperm from male is collected, processed and stored and then is artificially inserted into the female reproductive tract for conception. AI is one of the most essential procedures for genetically improving farm animals and is extensively used for breeding dairy. . The recognition of AI method worldwide presents the development of other technologies, such as cryopreservation and sexing of sperm, estrous cycle regulation, and embryo harvesting, freezing, culture and transfer, and cloning .
The rate of conception in the area of AI in the developing countries is less and hence the desired efficiency on the animal development has not been accomplished. Artificial insemination has following advantages over natural breeding. The major benefit of AI is that it makes utmost use of superior sires. Earlier, very few could get the benefit of superior bulls. Naturally, a bull can be bred to 50 to 60 cows per year. In contrast, by AI, thousands of cows can be sired in one year by one bull. . Exposure of sires to contagious genital infections is prevented by utilizing AI thereby preventing the spread of such infections.
4. Embryo transfer (ET)
To obtain genetically superior or important animals, animal breeders are attempting to get as many offspring’s as possible. Hormonal induction of multiple ovulations, followed by non-surgical collection of embryos and embryo transfer is extensively used .
ET is one of the most important reproductive techniques in cattle that can elevate the genetic improvement. ET in cattle has lately acquired huge popularity with seedstock dairy and beef producers. Like artificial insemination, ET can significantly increase the number of offsprings .
ET improves the reproductive ability of a cow because semen from one male can be utilized for a huge number of females, and by using a technique called superovulation, superior female can be made to provide more number of ovules. Cows that are not capable of sustaining pregnancy can still contribute by providing ovules for ET. Embryos can also be frozen and preserved in an embryo bank and used whenever required .
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5. In vitro production of embryos
In vitro production (IVP) of buffalo embryos has gained an importance because of less acceptance of AI and reduced superovulatory response in buffaloes . IVP contributes a good supply of embryos for studying fundamental research on “developmental physiology, farm animal breeding, embryo sexing, sperm injection, nuclear transfer, cloning and transgenesis”. IVP leads to a favorable pregnancy and birth of the calf in buffalo. However, the rate of success if less. Therefore IVP must be enhanced in the developing countries before it can be used in the cattle as well as buffaloes.
6. Improving health through vaccines
Vaccines are used for the prevention and control of animal and human diseases . Through biotechnology, new and enhanced drugs have been produced that lower production expenses and increase animal welfare by combating infections caused by bacteria and parasites .
With the help of modern biotechnology techniques, new and improved animal vaccines have also been generated. Vaccines used to fight diseases such as foot and mouth disease, scours, brucellosis, shipping fever, feline leukemia and rabies. Test kits have been created to diagnose health of livestock and other animals. Molecular biology distinguishes the disease causing agents by sequencing the nucleotides and by determining the origin of these pathogens. These molecular diagnostic techniques are polymerase chain reaction (PCR), monoclonal antibodies and recombinant antigens. These approaches can be made better to promote their use in the developing countries.
RISKS OF ANIMAL BIOTECHNOLOGY
Although implementing this technology provides many benefits, there are also certain risks involved with this technology .
- Genetically modified animals interfere with nature and tend to affect normal wild type organisms
- Genetic diversity of organisms is narrowed down and existing modifies animals will be prone to diseases and threatened as a result.
- The safety of food containing or produced from engineered animals also raises questions in the public because of its unpredictability (toxic or allergic etc)
- It has huge impact on the normal farms and their employment.
- To start up the business, funds are essential which might be obtained from government or private enterprises which is doubtful due to lack of trust.
- It leads to Negative Globalization which is due to probable mistreatment of developing countries.
- There is also scope for mistreatment of animals causing stress and future abnormalities which will be opposed by animal welfare organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) etc.
- Procedures like cloning will reduce naturally occurring genetic variability.
- Animal biotechnology involves costly processes but the success rate is very less
- There might be transfer of pathogens and other disease causing organisms from the donors to recipient animals.
- The life expectancy of such animals even after spending both time and money is very less as they are subjected to strain to produce more and desirable products.
- Techniques such as embryonic cell nuclear transfer (ECNT) and somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) have raised apprehensions on human safety and animal health. The cloned animals tend to have a poor success rate for embryo development which is called as ‘large offspring syndrome’ , placental abnormalities, edema, large umbilicus or perinatal deaths.
- Concerns still exist on the human consumption of cloned animals.
- Several other moral and ethical concerns also pose risks in the use of animal biotechnology.
ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
Today, ethical, social, environmental and economic issues in animal farming are essentially associated with sustainable income and food security for millions of people in the developing countries . The major function of farm animals in social, cultural and economic welfare of humanity in the developing countries contrasts with the condition in developed countries. Basically, there are two areas of ethical considerations. One being the alterations in the genetic content of animals and the other being concerns on animal welfare. Animals are considered to be “voiceless victims of science” since the painful treatment given to these animals during slaughtering and transportation is contrast of the perceived sentiments and love for animals.
Ethical considerations should be regarded on gene based methods such as gene product that has its application in vaccination, genes used for treatment of diseases and to detect the source of infections and making of therapeutic agents through insertion of specific genes into living tissues. Ethical and social examination on the biosafety issues such as harm in the recipient animals and humans who consume transgenic products should be considered.
Although transgenic methods such as introduction of a gene to get a desired trait, modification of physiological development and functions, increased reproductive capability, disease resistant animals prove to be of great benefit to the humans, biosafety, environmental risks should not be neglected. According to Monsanto which is an agrochemical company, bovine somatotropin is a natural ‘protein supplement’ that improves the cow’s ability to produce milk . However, some organizations believe that Monsanto is pushing a drug that compels cows to work harder on the factory cattle farm, and that pollutes ordinary processes. Related disapproval has been observed against attempts to genetically altering animals so that they will generate high levels of growth hormone.
Animal welfare and animal rights are frequently defiled in most of the developing countries. Certain laws such as anti-cruelty law and animal protection law should be adapted by all the countries so that animals are considered to have a fundamental value and are not solely instrumental for humans. Research should still be conducted to provide a safer and cheaper way of embryo transfer and artificial insemination in the developing countries.
CONCLUSIONS AND REMEDIES
Progress in the development of biotechnology is being made in many countries. However, only a small proportion of it is reaching the developing countries in the fields of conservation, animal improvement, diagnosis and control of diseases. However, farmers are not benefitted from the gene based techniques. Accessing novel technologies is very expensive for the developing countries and there is less investment for animal health and production. Although many discoveries have been developed in the laboratories by the developing countries, majority of them are not modified into appropriate products. Sufficient national and international platform through international donor consortium is required to manage the cost to access the biotechnological products. In the developing countries, the money expended by the international organizations on animal biotechnology is insufficient. “The World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the United Nations Development Programme, The United States Agency for International Development, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the International Development Research Centre, the Asian Development Bank” and many such groups have to provide greater funds to the livestock sector. Contributing money in livestock has positive results in human development.
I think, by identifying the health needs and making use of the benefits of these technologies, developing countries can exploit biotechnology for enhancing human health. However, the risk factors and ethical issues should be considered not only by the developing countries but also by the developed countries. More studies and research has to be conducted to minimize the risks of applying these technologies. The government agencies should provide proper finance to apply these technologies and also provide trained labor to get a maximum benefit out of it.
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