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What are some benefits of animal GMOs?

Submitted by: valley


Expert response from Yvonne Badke

Senior Biometrician, Breeding Research Group, Breeding and Trait Development Unit, Bayer Crop Science

Thursday, 19/02/2015 16:06

In general, the benefits of genetically modified (GM) animals are very similar to those cited for GM plants, which includes inserting genes to produce a GM animal in a more efficient way or enhance the function of the animal.


For the advantages and the process in plants, please refer to this basic introduction.


Genetic modifications in animals have been researched since the early 1990s.  FDA is currently reviewing the first GM animal product.  No GM food animal or food animal product is on the market today.  With regard to GM animals, FDA released guidelines in 2009 on how to receive GM-animal approval, citing the following main areas of application:


  • Produce pharmaceuticals to be used for other animals and humans.
  • Improve dietary nutrient utilization to decrease the potential environmental impact of that nutrient through excretion in manure.
  • Serve as a source of cells, tissue and organs closely matched to humans so that they may be able to be transplanted into humans with a decreased risk of rejection.
  • Produce high-value materials, such as those used for surgical sutures and personal protection devices, such as body armor for military and law enforcement use.
  • Produce highly specific antimicrobials that target disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli or salmonella.
  • Provide more healthful or more efficiently produced food.


Many of the GM animal products are expected to be used for pharmaceuticals, rather than through the food chain. There is currently one pharmaceutical product that is derived from GM animal products: ATryn, which is developed to prevent blood clots. This drug is produced in the milk of genetically enhanced (GE) goats. It was first approved by the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) of the European Commission in August 2006.


In the food sector, the most likely candidate for a market release at this point is AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage fish, a variation of Atlantic salmon. The fish carries a gene from Chinook salmon and one from ocean pout, which cause the fish to produce an increased amount of growth hormone year round. 


“Within eight months the AquAdvantage salmon grows to 500 grams, 10 times heavier than a conventional salmon. By the time it reaches market size, about 3 kilograms (6 pounds), it will have consumed about 25 percent less feed than conventional salmon. Salmon farmers could save as much as 25¢ per pound of fish they produce, which is significant considering that their profits average less than $1 per pound.” (Bloomberg Businessweek: “Why Won't the Government Let You Eat Superfish?”) 


Our increased demand for fresh fish has put the fishing industry under heavy demand over the last few years. One side effect of the increased demand is overfishing of natural populations, a cause many NGOs are now fighting actively. In order to protect natural populations, many of the fish that reach our tables have been grown using aquaculture. While this does help protect the natural population, it also presents other production and maintenance issues. Growing AquAdvantage salmon in offshore tanks, as proposed (and currently practiced) by AquaBounty, would decrease the overall environmental impact of salmon production. In general, resource management, environmental impact and disease management are all important factors in animal production. Introduction of GM traits is generally intended to: 


  1. Reduce the amount of resources necessary to produce an animal product by increasing feed efficiency and reducing growth time.
  2. Decrease environmental impact by reducing waste (e.g. methane gas, EnviroPigs) or, again, time and resources necessary.
  3. Increase disease resistance: producing animals resistant to common pests or diseases will increase the overall efficiency of production through decreased loss of animals and decreased necessity for chemical intervention (medication, pesticides and fungicides).