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Animal biotechnology is a study of biotechnology in which molecular biology methods are used to genetically engineer and modify the genome of animals to improve their expediency for agriculture, industrial, or medicinal uses. Animal biotechnology has been utilized to produce genetically modified animals that synthesize therapeutic proteins, control growth rates, or are immune to disease.
Advancements in animal biotechnology have been boosted by a current improvement in sequencing animal genomes, gene expression, and metabolic profiling of animal cells. More recently, genome editing technologies. It has opened up new opportunities to easily create genetic variations in animals to improve their health and well-being, agricultural production, and protection against diseases.
‘Transgenic animal’ is a term used to describe an animal with deliberately altered or modified genes. Using biotechnology, scientists introduce a foreign DNA fragment into the animal. As a result, every animal cell contains that same foreign, modified gene.
Long before biotechnology and genetic engineering, farmers used the process of selective breeding to produce desired characteristics in a farm animal—for example, increased milk production in a cow. Farmers chose two-parent animals with some desired features to produce offspring. The offspring would have the combined desired traits of both its parents.
In the 1970s, scientists produced the first chimeric mice. These mice had a combination of genetically different tissues. For the production of chimeric mice, scientists combined two different embryos at an early stage of development. The two embryos had different characteristic traits. By combining both the embryos, they formed a single embryo that grew into a chimeric adult. The adult exhibited features characteristic of both the embryos. In the following decade, scientists and biologists successfully altered the DNA patterns of pigs, birds, fish, sheep, and rabbits. Finally, in 1981, the term ‘transgenic’ was coined and used for the first time.
Peptides are naturally found in human and animal bodies. They are a string of amino acids. They’re considered the ‘building blocks of proteins. Different types of peptides contribute to various bodily functions, such as muscle growth and weight.
Synthetic peptides are peptides chemically produced in a laboratory. They impersonate naturally occurring peptides. Biologists and doctors use synthetic peptides in animals as immunogens. They generate antibodies that fight against animal pathogens. They were successfully used as a vaccine for parvovirus in canines.
The current two main uses of synthetic peptides in animals are:
Scientists have used synthetic peptides to diagnose diseases in animals. They are used to detect antigens. Once doctors know the type of antigen produced in the animal’s body, they can safely diagnose the disease and treat the animal.
Peptide-based vaccines are safer, and they guarantee that the animal will not succumb to the same virus again. They do not induce vaccine-related disease outbreaks. They are also more economical when compared to conventional vaccines obtained through growing organisms in mediums.
Biologists carry out the production of monoclonal antibodies in vitro. To do this, they use techniques of tissue culture. An animal, often a mouse, is immunized several times by injecting an antigen to produce monoclonal antibodies. Biologists then remove certain cells, called B cells, from the mouse’s spleen. Since B cells cannot live and multiply forever, biologists fuse them with cancerous B cells. Cancerous B cells are immortal. Their fusion creates cells called ‘hybridoma’ cells. Biologists then place all of these cells (the hybridoma, B cells, and cancerous B cells) in a medium. The medium allows only the growth of the hybridoma cells. The other cells die off. The hybridoma cells produce antibodies while they grow.
Biologists have used monoclonal antibodies to detect pregnancy in cows. The antibodies detect the concentration of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is released only when a cow is pregnant. Apart from cows, biologists can similarly detect pregnancies in pigs and bovines. A few cases of monoclonal antibodies are being used to treat some types of cancer in animals.
Biotechnology plays an essential role in industries where successful animal breeding is important. Due to biotechnology, the continuous production of industry animals has never been easier. Some of the methods used in animal breeding are:
1. Embryo Splitting
In this biotechnological technique, scientists split an embryo to form twins. After separating, the genetically identical embryos continue to develop in a female surrogate. This method is usually used on cattle to increase the production of calves.
2. Multiple Ovulation and Embryo Transfer
Here, biologists inject super hormones into a female to induce ovulation. After ovulation and fertilization, once they detect the formation of embryos, they surgically remove them, modify them, and transfer them into recipient females.
3. Embryonic Stem Cell
Here, scientists first harvest an embryo from a donor mother animal. They then extract undifferentiated cells from the embryo. They manipulate these cells to make them accept new genes. They are then put back into the mother.
Microinjection involves the transfer of genetic material into a living cell. Here, researchers or scientists directly inject DNA into the cell’s nucleus. This lets them study the role of genes. The genetic material may come from the same species or a different one. ‘Transgene’ is the name given to the gene inserted in the embryo by microinjection. The organisms produced after the transfer of genes are called ‘transgenic.’ Scientists and biologists have successfully used microinjection to transfer genes to frog eggs, mammalian embryos, plants, and tissues. Therefore, microinjections are a method of producing transgenic animals. Transgenic animals are invaluable to researchers and scientists in identifying the functions of genes and modified genes. However, microinjection is an expensive and slow process. It also requires highly skilled individuals. But the development of new technology is making it more affordable and reliable.
We benefit a great deal from the study and production of transgenic animals. They are used in a wide variety of applications. Some of them are:
1. To study diseases in animals
Transgenic animals are highly beneficial in studying how genes contribute to the development of diseases. They are used as models to procure a cure for those diseases.
2. Improvement of farm animals
Because their genes are artificially modified, transgenic animals have better resistance to diseases. This is highly desirable in the meat and dairy industry. Farmers can significantly reduce losses incurred due to animals dying from a disease outbreak. Especially in the dairy industry, transgenic animals provide more excellent milk production. Thus, they provide food security.
3. Medicines and Supplements
Many of the medicines and nutritional supplements we currently use are derived from transgenic animals.